Total Pageviews

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Sign of God's Victory

            In the film Good Will Hunting, Chuckie Sullivan works construction in Boston with his best friend, Will Hunting.  While it is fine work for Chuckie, he wants more for his friend Will.  They’ve grown up as tough, street kids who get in a lot of fights and drink a lot of beer.  Chuckie knows his buddy Will has an unbelievable brain that is going unused laying bricks.  It is good work; but Chuckie sees what Will could become.
He tells Will that his dream is to one day show up at Will’s door so they can go to the construction job.  Only when he knocks, Will is gone.  On that day, Chuckie will know his friend actually applied his supreme intellect to something great and got himself out of the rough life they live.  Chuckie might be sad at his friend’s departure but he is sadder still to see this great mind wasted.
            Knocking on the door and having it not answered for Chuckie is a sign that things have gone well. 
            In your life, what is the sign?  Three letters after your name?  PhD.  Is it when your child stops asking for help?  You quietly cry because your baby is growing, but inside you know your prayers are answered because your baby is growing up.
What is the sign that what you’ve hoped for and waited for has come? The first day on the job you dreamed about?  The last day on the job after a 45-year career?
What is the sign – that when you see it, you know – the sign that shows resolution has come, everything will be ok, and yours is a happy ending?
John, a Christian in 96 AD from the city Ephesus, John has been exiled for faith in Christ.  Sent to live out his days in bondage, he was taken into Heaven in a vision.  From the discouragement prison brings, John has journeyed with God to the heights of revelation beyond the stars, and in his writing we join the journey.
We bring along all the stuff that makes us who we are.  Wounded?  We have been.  Disappointed by life, by faith, by people, by God?  Oh yes.  Good times?  We have those too, and all those nondescript days in between.
We weave together our stories and John’s so that what John sees, speaks to us.  Jesus the Lion of the Tribe of Judah roars out our triumphs.  Jesus the sacrificed Lamb purchases life for us. 
What sign on the final pages of your novel shows that it will be a comedy that ends with joyous, victorious laughter – the happiness that comes when we know things are going to be alright?  In Revelation 21, John looks and sees a new heaven and a new earth.   
Seeing what John sees, we know something good is in store for those on the side of Christ and he invites all to his side.  We come by acknowledging our desperate need for the forgiveness and salvation he offers.  We admit we are fallen, broken people and we repent, turning away from all our mistakes and sins.  With gratitude we receive what Jesus gives and submit our lives to his Lordship.  And in this way, we are on His side. 
Revelation is chalk full of signs.  John sees one with the arrival of the new heaven and earth and it confirms the ending he hoped for.  It is what is not there.  “The sea was no more.”  There is a new heaven and new earth, but no sea.
Imagine being locked behind bars.  Year after year, your life is confined to a 9 x 10 cell.  The thought oppresses me especially when 18-year-olds are committed to life for their involvement in serious crimes.  Whatever these kids might have become in their lives, now they are prison residents.  Imprisoned, people fail to flourish.  We cannot be who God created us to be when imprisoned. 
John wasn’t bound by bars, but by water.  As beautiful as the shore can be when we vacation at the beach, the island was a 24/7 reminder to John that his freedom was gone.  In Heaven he saw, there was no sea.
Are you imprisoned, not by bars or oceans, but something else?  A limited vision?  You’ve always been told you’ll amount to nothing and the message has sunk in.  Is that you?  Is depression your jailor?  You have all kinds of potential and opportunity but are completely unable to see it because something chemical in your brain or something discouraging in your circumstances locks you in and won’t allow you to flourish.  What robs you of freedom to be God’s child?
Look, John says, in the Kingdom, the sea is no more; our chains are gone and we are free to flourish and be who God has created us to be. 
I am sure John remembered Genesis.  “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” 
Those waters rear their chaotic heads over and over. 
Evil fills the earth.  God brings a flood to wipe our the evil – talk about a sea! 
Humans try to build a city but it is out of control and it is called Babel.  God disrupts this human arrogance and scatters it. 
Humans try other cities, Sodom, Gomorrah.   In this cesspools of sex without limits, the vilest scent of depravity nauseates the nostrils.  God burns it.  Without God, we swim in chaos.  We were created for good work and for order, but the sea shows ultimate disorder – the failure of civilization.
John sees that there is no sea.  God creates and when we soil the beauty with the foulness of greed and gluttony and idolatry, then God in God’s mercy re-creates until finally, with this new heaven and new earth, chaos is rooted out for good.  The failure of civilization fades to black as we look to the city on the hill built by God and realize there are many rooms and he has prepared a place for us – each one of us.
John has already shared that malicious intentions rise from the sea.  Flipping back to the end of Revelation 12 and into 13, “Then the dragon took his stand on the sand of the sea shore.  And I saw a beast rising out of the sea” (12:18-13:1a).  We don’t have to guess at the dragon’s identity.  John has told us this one is the serpent that deceived Eve, the Satan that tempted Jesus, and the devil that has tormented his church.  The beast, who might be associated with antichrist although the book of Revelation never uses that term, must be the Roman Emperor in John’s view. 
The antichrist/beast role is reprised throughout history.  Hitler played it as well as anyone, but there have been others.  Joseph Kony of Uganda is an antichrist.  So too are Americans Fred Pheps and Terry Jones who carry the title pastor but peddle hatred, something antithetical to the way of love Jesus demonstrated and requires of his followers.  The sea of chaos is where evil comes from and evil leads to a failure of trust. 
John and we with him cannot trust the world.  Students in a classroom – elementary school, high school, or college are shot up.  Unmanned drones destroy villages including hundreds of innocents and then we claim success because we think we got a terrorist.  How can a dead child be considered necessary collateral damage?  Guantanamo Bay.  This is evil and evil makes it impossible to trust the world.  It emanates from the sea that binds us in madness and crushes civilization and human flourishing.  The depths of the black waters bring this all to mind. 
But John looked and the sea is no more.  In the previous chapter, Revelation 20, he saw the dragon cast into a lake of fire.  Jesus has claimed final victory, a victory he secured by hanging on a cross and then walking out of a tomb. 
One more reason we can know that the removal of the sea is the sign that all is well comes from the Gospels.  The disciples, experienced boatmen, were overwhelmed by a storm on the Sea of Galilee.  If these fishermen could not survive, no one could.  And they knew death was coming to claim them.  Then they see Jesus, walking across the angry waters that fill them terror.  They see Jesus commanding the waters and the waters obey immediately.  They see one more powerful than the waters they fear.
The sea with its yawning mouth that swallows great ships whole tells us definitively we will fail to last.  Death is certain.  God created us for life with Him and he never dies.  However, the Fall of Adam and Eve, repeated by every human who sins when given chance makes death inevitable.  The sea is constant reminder of our failure to last. 
            With the arrival of the New Heaven and New Earth, there is a new reminder.  Could this be so good, so right?  There is no sea.  There is no failure to flourish; no failure of civilization.  Evil has been defeated, so we need not worry about a failure of trust.  This victory of God means we won’t fail to last.  We live forever.  This is eternal joy. 
            Have you ever experienced misty eyes at the end of a wonderful movie?  Are there songs so beautiful and attached to moments so imprinted on your heart that they bring tears?
Twice I lost my breath, literally.  The first time was the first time I climbed to a mountain top and saw the view.  The second time my breath left me and my heart stopped was the moment my bride walked toward me down the aisle.  I have cried tears of joy and tears of love over my children and over stories that stir the soul.  John tells us that in Heaven, God will be present.  He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
            I don’t think this rules out weeping that comes from the depths of a grateful, transformed heart.  This is what John hears from the throne in Heaven.  “The home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them and they will be his peoples (meaning peoples from all nations are his); God himself will … wipe every tear; … death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”  No more loss.  No more evil that breaks us.  No more sea. 
            We live directionally, our lives guided by the sign John shared.  We strive for order, obeying the Biblical command to make something of this world.  We live as people of integrity because Jesus is the truth and we want our lives to point people to him.  We work in the power of Holy Spirit to promote human flourishing.  And we live with the knowledge that we will last because Jesus has defeated death. 
            I want to offer a sign of God’s new community.  This sign will be a reminder to the eyes, the ears, the body, and the heart.  The sign is open arms that need another and together form a holy embrace.
Whenever, wherever we see open arms and hear the gospel, we know we in with a group that points heavenward.  You bring a friend to church.  Someone is brokenhearted and a Christian friend showers him with love so that he’s not alone in his time of loss and discouragement.  The church visits orphans, builds benches, cleans the community, and makes improvements to the home of a financially impoverished but spiritually rich older person.  Someone desperately needs $40 more so the rent can be paid and the church gives the $40.  All of it done with Open arms. 
            This is the sign that God is at work and that this family will be at home in God’s Heaven.  We are already His.  The Kingdom activities which will happen in Heaven happen now, among us.  Grace is given, smiles are abundant, and love unending.  Open arms.  The sign that the sea is no more, God has won, and we are with Him.
            Open arms.

No comments:

Post a Comment