This sermon was preached at Morning Prayer on Sunday 24 May. An audio recording of this service is attached below under 'Downloads.'
Friends, last week Jesus said to us, ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ Today we see a vision of that place: the new heaven and new earth, the new Jerusalem, the eternal city of peace, where mourning, crying, pain and Death shall be no more. That’s a vision our world desperately needs to see right now, isn’t it?
Think of the most stunningly beautiful sights you’ve ever seen in your life: a sunrise or sunset, mountains, a view from an airplane, a great cathedral, a person whom you love, your spouse on your wedding day. Whatever that vision was for you, it’s stuck with you, hasn’t it? And no doubt you remember the effect it had on you at the time, how it immediately inspired a sense of awe, wonder, delight, thankfulness and renewal.
These various earthly visions of ours are but faint reflections of the new heaven and new earth to come; and friends, one of the goals of the Christian life is to have the glory of this vision dawn on you here and now, so that you can experience the awe, wonder, delight, thankfulness and renewal it brings. Let’s focus on that last blessing: renewal.
In our second reading from the Book of Revelation, Jesus Christ, the risen and ascended King of heaven and earth, declares from His glorious throne: ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ Notice how it’s phrased in the present tense. Not, ‘I will make all things new in the future,’ (though that’s true, He will), but rather He says: ‘I am even now making all things new.’
The word used for ‘new’ here does not mean something that’s young or has been around for only a short time. That’s the kind of newness valued by the world. We see this (and are tempted by it) all the time in advertising for cosmetics and fashion – this idolatry of youthfulness, which in this world can only pass away, for all created things age and decay. And yet so many people spend their lives and their money trying to cling to a fleeting youth.
By contrast, the word used for ‘newness’ here in Revelation 21 refers to quality – it means brightness, vividness, strength and vitality. Even though God is the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:9) and Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8), with Him youth and newness are not the same. God’s newness is a quality all its own and it never dries up or withers – in fact, it flows out from the throne of God as an eternal wellspring and river.
That’s the spring of the water of life mentioned in v. 6. From the throne of God flows a newness – and nothing in this world of change and decay can ultimately withstand it: not plague or sickness, not poverty, injustice, brokenness – not even Death itself. This river will one day flood the whole world (Rev. 22); but friends, even now you are invited to drink from it to receive refreshment and newness of life.
What this means, practically speaking, is that you sense the presence of God in your life. You sense that a transformative power has come into your life to re-make you from the inside out. So we don’t just drink from an external source of living water, but actually this living water becomes a well-spring within us. In the Gospel of John, which is the Part I companion volume to the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me […] Out of your heart will flow rivers of living water (John 7:37-38).
Three key verbs here: thirst, drink and flow. Let’s take those in reverse order.
C.S. Lewis has a great line in his classic book ‘Mere Christianity’ where he says that the Christian faith is not a matter of niceness, but of newness.
That’s such an important corrective because a lot of people think that Christianity is about being a nice person. (And then many say that lots of Christians are hypocrites because they’re not so nice, but that actually just proves my point about this common misconception that Christianity is about being nice).
You see, the thing about being nice for the sake of niceness is that it doesn’t run very deep, does it? It’s easy to be nice to others when they’re nice to you, or when you’re having a good day, or things are going well in your life. But try being nice when someone insults you, or treats you unfairly, or you’re having a bad day, or your life is not going well.
Niceness is like a pool of shallow water. It looks nice enough, but when the sun blazes and the heat rises, it dries up. By contrast, newness is a well-spring that runs deep; it’s not dependent on favourable conditions, but has an eternal source all its own.
By the way, I have no problem with being nice; what I’m saying is that what we’re really after here is love. Being nice is faint copy of being loving. And love is the essence of the new life in Christ.
Jesus says ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And friends, because He loves you, He wants nothing more than to make you new.
You may be thinking to yourself, 'I don’t really sense this newness in my life. How can I get it?' Again, thirsting and drinking. Acknowledge your thirst and go to Jesus to receive the living water that He alone can offer.
Another way to put it is: bow down to Christ the King, for He is the One seated on the throne. Those who submit to the kingly authority of Jesus are brought into His kingdom, they live under His reign which makes all things new. So friends, go to His throne. Allow His kingly rule to extend into all corners of your life, especially where you resist it most – that’s how you’ll be made new.
Christ is King and we are His subjects – but not only subjects, we are His royal ambassadors who represent Him in this world. We serve Him, we suffer and do battle for Him when necessary, we show forth His glory, we speak for Him and proclaim His good news. (That’s another way of saying how the living water flows out from His throne – through us who are filled with His Spirit).
Christ’s coronation as King of the universe is what His Ascension into heaven is all about. Christ ascended 40 days after His resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.
In the Bible, 40 day periods are for testing, training and maturation. Think of Moses on the mountain or especially Jesus in the wilderness. So between His resurrection and ascension, did Jesus Himself go through another 40-day trial? No, not Him, but His followers, His disciples did. Jesus did not ascend immediately into heaven because He needed 40 days to re-train His followers to be His royal ambassadors.
How did He train them? By teaching them the Bible. As Luke says in today’s Gospel, He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures – and the key to understanding the Scriptures is to see the suffering and glorified Christ at the centre.
Friends, that’s how we’re made new. By having our eyes opened to see our lives as part of the Bible’s great story – Jesus Christ’s great story – of suffering, glory and proclamation.
Write this down in your life, for these words are trustworthy are true.
Timothy J. Keller, 'The New Jerusalem,' (1993), The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive.