Welcome Home: You're Part of an Eternal Family
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Revelation 22:1-5 ~ Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019
Have you ever played the “What if” game? You know, when you let your mind wander and you wonder what if…What if? What if…I had a billion dollars, what would I do with it? What if…the aches and pains that plague me daily would suddenly go away for good? What if…no one was starving, people actually appreciated and loved each other, there was perfect sharing of resources so that every need was met? What if …
At first glance the reading from Revelation today could sound like John is writing down some of his favorite “what ifs…” By the time John writes Revelation, he has felt the rougher side of life. He was banished to the island of Patmos to live out his days on earth. It was a type of prison sentence, separated from his home, his family, his support network. Under such tough circumstances playing the “what if” game can be coping mechanism, a way of escaping the harsh realities of life by imagining a better kind of life, a different kind of world. But what John records isn’t a figment of his imagination. It is a God-given vision of the real life, the true home that awaits all who leave this life with faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. And what John sees for all who remain faithful to the end here is a new world that is their true home where life goes on without end!
This is the chief reason we celebrate Saints Triumphant Sunday as part of our church year. These triumphant saints, who lived by faith, as they followed Jesus through the challenges and difficulties of this life all the way to their true and eternal home in heaven, they remind us and encourage us to keep the eyes of our faith focused on Jesus because he will faithfully lead us through this life and welcome us home in heaven too. Today our encouragement to stay in the faith and keep fighting the good fight to hold onto our faith comes in the form of a guided tour of the place where Saints Triumphant live, that place Jesus has prepared for us, that place called heaven.
So, what will our heavenly home be like? Let’s take a closer look at what John sees in the vision of heaven God granted him. John writes, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
The picture reminds us of the original paradise on earth, the Garden of Eden. Before sin there were no weeds or thorn bushes, no wilting flowers or worm-filled apples. Imagine the beauty and the splendor of the Garden of Eden with the great Tree of Life towering over all the other vegetation. John describes heaven as being similar, with a river flowing as clear as crystal from the throne of God. Just before this in chapter 21, John also describes the city of heaven as having golden streets, city gates made of pearl, and foundations made of precious stones.
Those building materials remind us that John is just painting a picture for us. He is trying to describe what is hard to capture with words. Even as John is looking at heaven, it is so hard for him to put in words that we can understand. So basically John is encouraging us to let our imaginations soar. He is telling us, "Think of the most beautiful, the most precious, the most awe-inspiring things of this world. Heaven surpasses even those things, by far!" It’s like the little girl who looked up at the stars one night and wisely said, “If it is this beautiful on this side, how much more beautiful it must be on the other side.”
John tells us that heaven isn’t just a place of great beauty, it’s a place of endless life! It’s life that flows like a river. Where does that river of life come from? What is its origin? It’s coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb. What a beautiful reminder that God has created us for life and Jesus, the Lamb of God, gave his life to restore ours after humanity chose death over life, rebelling against God. This river of life, sparkling, shimmering, shining-- this river keeps on flowing forever. It just keeps on giving life. It won’t run dry after we’ve been in heaven for 10 thousand years.
John continues, “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.”
You can only imagine how big that tree must be! Growing out of the river -- the tree must tower almost beyond eyesight! And what an unusual tree! This side of heaven there's no plant that continually bears its crop, no plant that yields its fruit every month of the year. But this one does-- and apparently fruit enough for everyone: millions upon millions. No hunger. No thirst. Every essential human need is satisfied. Forever! This will be true life. Lasting life.
John also sees that the everlasting life we’ll have in heaven will be filled up with countless blessings. It is such a place because of the things that will not be there. Sin will be completely removed from our hearts and lives. Right now, sin is a big part of our lives. There is much of it here. Let's face it, because of sin, this life is tough. There is so much to do and so little time, and so many things that go wrong during that little amount of time. But God gives us comfort by telling us that in heaven we will have true rest. Just imagine-a place where there are no more surgeries because the things that cause a need for surgery just aren’t there. No more swollen hands from a long day of work, no more blisters from trying to eek out a living. No more aching back or getting hurt on the job while you’re struggling just to survive.
What makes heaven so wonderful isn’t just what won’t be there, but who will be there. John says, “We shall see his face!” That is our Savior’s face. There are some people in the world we aren’t allowed to see whenever we want to. If you’d stroll up to the White House in Washington today and demand to see the President, you’re probably going to get the shuffle treatment. You’d end up talking to one of his advisors or else it would take you days for an opportunity to meet him. The Presidency is an important role. But far above any and every human ruler stands Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth. Yet there is no red tape when you want to access him even now. Jesus calls on us to pray to him whenever we want. He poured out his heart to us, recording it in writing for us to listen to how he feels about us (Holy Bible). These things we enjoy already. Once we get to heaven, add to it: we can talk with him face-to-face. We’ll be on a first name basis, we with him and he with us, forever! What a beautiful place heaven will be because of this relationship we’ll have with Jesus there.
Finally John says, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”
What safety we'll enjoy there! No more night-- with its dangers and evildoers. Always daytime-- which is essentially the same time, eternal time, so that we'll really never need to be in a hurry. Whatever we do, we'll have eternity to tend to it. And after a project is done, there will be just as much eternity afterwards to enjoy. Imagine that! A place that where we’ll have all the time we’ll need to do what we need to do and to it right, a place where we get to enjoy every moment without end. John says that we will "reign forever and ever" with all the saints (all the believers) of all time.
You hear the description of heaven and it makes you want to be there, doesn’t it. Maybe even makes you wonder why you’re still here, especially when times are tough or things aren’t going right and you find yourself asking, “Lord why won’t you take me to be there with you? Why are you keeping me here?” It’s because we have struggles like these that we need this Sunday called Saints Triumphant Sunday. We’re not the only ones who have had such struggles. Those who have gone before us have wrestled with those questions too…but they didn’t give up. They kept on striving and straining, following Jesus by faith, until the day that he called them to see him face-to-face. And look where they’re at now!
This reminds me of a story from World War II. There was a young man from Seattle and he had fallen in love with the neighbor girl down the street. How they loved each other. He was twenty-one and she was nineteen and they were making plans for marriage. Suddenly, Pearl Harbor was bombed. The young man enlisted and the marriage would have to wait. The young man was assigned to a military base down in San Diego. They agreed, these two young lovers did, that at each night at 10:30, whenever possible, they would look out at the Big Dipper. He would look out at the stars and she would look out at the stars, at the very same moment, and they would think of each other for fifteen minutes. The two of them did that faithfully, each night at 10:30, the young man in San Diego, the young woman in Seattle. They knew that they were still connected to one another, and what encouragement that gave them to keep pressing forward, to stay faithful, because the day was coming when they would be back together again.
Revelation 22 supplies us a similar vision. Today, we feel that all of us who are here on this side of the veil of death, we are to look to the true star, the one who lights our way and guides our path, Jesus. And as we are looking at Jesus, there are people on the other side of the veil of death and they too are looking at Jesus. All the saints triumphant whom we’ve known and loved, grandpas and grandmas, our mothers and fathers, a spouse, our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our friends and loved ones, all from the other side of the veil. We cannot see each other; we cannot see them and they cannot see us, but we both can see Christ, we by faith and they by sight. All of us, on both sides of the curtain of existence, on both sides of the veil of life and death, we all look to Jesus and we know we are in communion with each other. What encouragement that gives us. Their triumph encourages us to keep going, keep struggling, keep striving to follow Jesus by faith, even to the point of death, that we too may receive from his hand the crown of life and be welcomed into this glorious place that he has prepared for us, our eternal home, heaven. God fill your soul with strength and your heart with greater anticipation as you faithfully follow him from here to your true forever home! Amen.