The Bible is a wonderful and yet mysterious book. And it is a wonderful and mysterious book because its author is also wonderful and mysterious. Almighty God is our constant companion in this life, and yet there is absolutely nothing about him that we do not stand, or more appropriately, completely fall to our knees, in awe of. What one of us has fully fathomed the mysteries of creation? What one of us can explain why God did not get out his cosmic eraser and be done with it when our first parents fell prey to the wiles of the evil one? What one of us can explain a covenant and a promise made to Noah and his family that has continuously proven true, and will be proven true until humankind fails to inhabit this planet? How can we describe the calling of an absolute pagan whom God chose to become the father of a nation that thrives to this day? Who can explain the power and authority of a burning bush that called Moses to confront the despotic ruler of the world’s greatest nation and prevail over him? Who here this morning can explain to me the absolute mystery of the incarnation, that of God in the flesh? Who can fathom the mystery of why a God would willingly die, in order that his stubborn and perpetually disobedient creatures could live forever? There is only one word that can even begin to describe or explain these things, and that word is mysterious and inexplicable in and of itself. That word is “love”. We have all experienced love. We have especially experienced God’s love. And yet we would be extremely hard-pressed to define it. Webster, our friend with the big red book, has this to say: “Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties.” That’s nice. But obviously that’s also nowhere near enough. It doesn’t even scratch the surface of the mystery of love. And so we hold fast to the wonder and the mystery of it all, without attempting to give rational explanation to it.
When it comes to God’s story of human redemption the Book of Revelation is probably the the most wonderful and most mysterious of all. There is much in this book that absolutely defies explanation. It is not a book than handily lends itself to our interpretations, though many have attempted to do just that. There is strange imagery in this book. There are bizarre, hybrid creatures that certainly exist nowhere in the natural world.
And, there are events and activities that continue to puzzle us. But having said that, there is also much in the Book of Revelation that is perfectly understandable and wonderfully encouraging, and that has the power to be an absolute blessing to anyone who reads it.
And we are going to one of those places this this morning. When we read these words, it may seem as though that we are at the end. But if we look carefully, it is really yet another beginning. John opens his eyes and he sees a vision of new heaven and a new earth. Now that is cosmic change to ponder. We know from the very first verses of the Bible that God created the heavens and the earth. And it was good, and it was lovely, and it was pristine, and it glorified its creator. But sin came into that world, and from that moment forward, we sinners have been damaging ourselves and our world continuously.
In Noah’s day, God renovated the world, but one day, God will do away with this world and all that surrounds it, and create another. This new heaven and new earth will be the home of the faithful redeemed. It will be the home of the new missionary community that we have been exploring since Easter. And curiously, in this new home of the faithful redeemed there will be no sea. There will also be no puffy clouds to sit on while we play our harps, either. Puffy clouds and harp-playing is a demonic caricature of heaven that has somehow managed to endure. If heaven is puffy clouds and harp-playing, I’m not going! But no sea? That seems odd. My psychological make-up requires that I be near the sea, but it is a long story that I won’t go into this morning. I love the sea. Didn’t Jesus dignify workers in the sea by calling them to be his disciples? Well, yes he did, but he also called them out of that trade. Twice. Didn’t Jesus spend time on the sea in boats with his disciples? Yes he did, but it was mostly to rescue them from certain death when huge storms threatened to destroy them.
Actually, there are precious few places in the Bible where the sea is treated with anything that resembles kindness. Think of the stories of Noah and Jonah. In the Book of Daniel, horrible, evil, demonic monsters rise up out of the sea to kill and to destroy. The same is true in the Book of Revelation: more terrible beasts rise up out of the sea.
But I suspect that there will be no sea in the new creation because there is no breath in the sea. Throughout the Scriptures, wind, breath, and spirit play some very important roles. In the beginning God breathed the breath of life into the first human creature, and Adam became a living being. After his resurrection Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into his disciples and created the new missionary community. On the day of Pentecost the wind of the Holy Spirit surrounded the disciples and gave them new, and stronger voices and hearts to proclaim the good news of salvation. In both Testaments, the words for breath and spirit and wind are interchangeable. God is Spirit. God is the source of life and breath, and so in the new creation there is no sea. There is nothing that can threaten or diminish or take away the breath of God that breathes through us.
And because that breath breathes through us eternally, there will be no more tears, death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more. These things will also be lacking in the new creation.
In the beginning, the human creature was created for one purpose, and one purpose only. That purpose is to be in relationship with God. In the new creation, that purpose is the same. It is unchanged. It is to be in relationship with the one true God. But from the very beginning, we have chosen many other things as our lives’ goal, and we have resisted a relationship with God. We have brought death and destruction upon ourselves in every moment of our history, and our relationships with one another have failed because of this.
And yet, in spite of our misbegotten behaviors, God still comes to us. God still seeks us out, even when we are running from God. God’s first question, “Where are you?” is still God’s only question. And so throughout all of history God has made covenantal promises to Adam and Eve, and to Noah and his family, and to Abraham and Sarah, and to Moses and to the prophets, each time revealing more of himself and more of his love to his stubborn creatures.
And finally, all of those covenantal promises came to a glorious climax when God took on human flesh, and became the child of Bethlehem. “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth”. (John 1:14) And to “Where are you?” has been added, “Come to me all you who labor, and who are bowed down with care, and I will give you rest.”
If we so choose, we can continue to resist that love. We can spurn the God who has been lovingly pursuing us from the moment that we first breathed the air of this planet. But if we do, we will miss out on the greatest, most loving relationship of all time, and the other relationships that we gather around us will suffer and die. There is no life at all apart from God.
In his vision, John heard a loud voice coming from the throne. That voice, that living breath, proclaimed the eternal hope of the faithful redeemed: “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…”
I can hear that loud voice telling me that if I do not resist God’s amazing love, that God will make his home with me. It is a great and wonderful mystery that God wants to live with me and you and with all of his redeemed creation, in a brand new place; a new heaven and a new earth, in a place where we will live forever. And in that place, there will be no tears, and death will be abolished, and grief and sorrow will be permanently locked away, and pain will not exist, and relationships of all kinds will be wondrously and mysteriously restored. God is making all things new. The end is, of course, yet a new beginning.