New Year’s Eve – 2020 LSB #’s 672, 673, 680
Text – Revelation 21:1
Then I saw a new heaven & a new earth, for the first heaven & the first earth had passed away, & the sea was no more.
ONE DAY WE TOO SHALL SEE
It’s a common practice at the end of milestones to look back over the past & reflect upon the joy & the success we experienced leading up to that milestone. Often the challenges & struggles have already faded by then into the distance. For this past year – not so much. It seems like, more than in the recent past, the struggles & challenges are ongoing…
In our limited experience, of around 90 years or less, if there has ever been a year that people were looking forward to leave behind it is this year – 2020. No doubt there’ve been far worse years in human history, but the vast majority of us were not alive then, or they’re so long in our past we’ve mostly forgotten what they were like.
For as proud & arrogant as the human spirit can be, this year has been a global wake-up call about the fragile & uncertain nature of life. The intrusion of death into the lives of people around the world highlights the greatest problem that humanity faces. As much as people have tried, in every age of history, no one has eliminated the power of death.
No politician has been able to outlaw death & none of them has been able to protect their citizens from its ability to come & take us whenever & wherever it wills. Death is known as the great equalizer, because even the wealthy & politically well-connected are not able to buy their way out of dying.
People who pride themselves on their ability to control the circumstances of their lives are unable to control death. The young & healthy can be swallowed up by it just as surely as the old & frail. Thousands of years ago, a man named Job was inspired by the Holy Spirit to put the truth into words, & nothing has changed since: “How frail is humanity! How short is life, how full of trouble! We blossom like a flower & then wither. Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear. You [Lord] have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, & we are not given a minute longer.” (Job 14:1-2, 5 NLT)
Those who believe that human beings are ultimately good vainly imagine that by means of better education, a better environment, better legislation & a more equitable distribution of wealth they are going to usher in a new era, a golden age, the Utopia of man’s ardent desire.
Their dream remains a dream! Neither economic nor disarmament conferences, neither better schools nor share-the-wealth programs are going to bring about a truly golden age, a new heaven & earth or a new order. It is only God who, through His Spirit, makes things new.
Man tried that at the tower of Babel & God confused their language to break up their human centered dreams of glory. Contrary to human ideas, our hope is NOT in getting to 2021, or faster distribution of the vaccine, or to larger stimulus checks. Free health care & lower taxes are not going to save the human race, nor will they even make life better here on earth.
Even during Christmas, in spite of all the beautiful light decorations, or the quality of family get-togethers, the good news sung during Silent Night is founded only on the empty tomb. If Jesus was merely born to die & stay dead, then His birth would be meaningless. He would be just one more grave in the planet we call earth.
But graves are of the old heaven & earth, the one that itself is in the process of passing away. Out of the death of the 1st heaven & earth a new heaven & a new earth will be raised.
Tomorrow will bring about an entirely new year, & many people are looking forward to it, but it’s going to be the same old same old. When the ball hits the ground at midnight not a single thing that matters will have changed! “The earth mourns & withers; the world languishes & withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, & its inhabitants suffer for their guilt…” (Isaiah 24:4-6 ESV)
As Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1789, “Our new Constitution is now established, & has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death & taxes.” In the new heaven & the new earth there will be neither!
The good news of Christmas, & of the coming new year, is the same. Immanuel has overcome death & has shared His eternal life with you. That is the gift of Christmas which truly matters. In 2020 & through the pandemic, the intrusion of death into the lives of people of all ages highlighted the singular & central significance of Jesus’ resurrection.
Easter morning brought about the new era of which St. John writes in the book of Revelation. To the seers of God, time & eternity, the era of the NT & the eternal heaven, are not sharply distinguished & believers are already now in the heavenlies. We just can’t see it yet.
In principle, that promise runs through Scripture from beginning to end like a golden thread. It is realized even in this life. In perfection it is fulfilled in the next, especially in the new heaven & earth. It is the greatest promise, for it includes all the other promises.
There is a beautiful connection, or golden thread, between Genesis & Revelation that resembles a flower. We find the seed in Genesis, the growing plant in the books lying between, & the fully developed flower in Revelation.
Genesis tells us that God created heaven & earth. Revelation describes the new heaven & earth. In Genesis the sun, moon & stars are called into being. In Revelation we read that the city has no need of the sun nor the moon to shine in it; for the glory of God enlightens it & its lamp is the Lamb. Genesis describes a paradise which was lost. Revelation pictures a paradise restored. Genesis describes the cunning & power of Lucifer. Revelation informs us that the devil was bound & hurled into the lake of fire & brimstone.
Genesis pictures the awful scene of Adam & Eve fleeing from their Creator & hiding themselves from the presence of the Almighty. Revelation gives us the most wonderful communion between God & redeemed mankind: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, & they will be His people…” (Revelation 21:3 ESV)
Finally, where Genesis shows us the tree of life, with an angel to keep man away from it, Revelation rejoices that mankind once again will have the right to eat from the tree of life & live forever. In stark & terrible contrast to that, the last verse of the Epistle reading states:
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters & all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire & sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8 ESV)
As the year 2020 involved massive changes in what we thought was normal, & as 2021 appears it will continue with much the same, God’s plan, though for a while seemingly defeated, in the end will be seen to triumph completely. For now, our eyesight is too corrupted by sin to actually see what God is doing. Only occasionally does He give us miraculous insight.
Revelation 21 portrays the result of God’s redeeming grace & mercy, whether in the present here on earth, or in the future there in heaven. This redeeming grace & transforming power of God must never be viewed as pertaining only to the future – when we die & go to heaven – as Christians even often think of it.
No, here & now, in this present era, even with Covid 19, God’s grace & transforming power are already working. It’s just that we seldom are allowed to see it. So Revelation 21 is not simply speaking of when we die & go to heaven. It is a description of the redeemed universe of the future, yet it is also a description of the redeemed church of today – a church that foreshadows the church, called the New Jerusalem, of the eternal paradise. As poorly as 2020 seems to have gone, Yahweh was still with us, forgiving us, renewing us & leading us so that we may delight in His will & walk in His ways to the glory of His holy name.
The creation of the new heaven & the new earth has in a very real way already begun in the hearts & souls & minds of all who trust in Jesus as their Savior from their sins. As we follow the Lord, this new creation finds expression in our daily lives. Yes, now we see that but dimly. On the Last Day we shall see it with a clarity that for now is incomprehensible.
For now, you & I, & all God’s children on earth, live by faith. In this world of sin that is a serious challenge, filled with dangers all the way. However, because our salvation is entirely dependent upon our Creator & Savior, what truly matters is not what you & I see, but what the heavenly Father sees. And He already sees you & I beautifully:
“…prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2 ESV) And He promises that, “One day we too shall see!” As St. John was inspired to write:
“Then I saw a new heaven & a new earth, for the first heaven & the first earth had passed away, & 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, & they will be His people, & God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, & death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV) Amen.
Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come to thee? When shall my sorrows have an end? Thy joys when shall I see? O happy harbor of the saints, O sweet & pleasant soil! In the no sorrow may be found, no grief, no care, no toil. O Christ, do Thou my soul prepare for that bright home of love that I may see Thee & adore with all Thy saints above. Amen. LSB 673:1-2, 6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet