The Gospel of Christmas Eternal
Preached by Jason Abbott
Do you have a place which you fondly remember and long to go back to?
For me it’s the Rocky Mountains. My wife will tell you that every so often she catches me missing Colorado like one misses an old friend.
You know, when you’re driving to Colorado from Missouri on Interstate 70, there’s a magical moment when you first see the hazy silhouette of the mountains on the horizon. After monotonous hours on top of monotonous hours of traveling through Kansas and eastern Colorado, seeing those mountains gives you hope. Those peaks on the horizon encourage you: “Keep on going. Keep on going.”
Friends, glimpsing the promise of the mountains after an arduous journey is, in many ways, similar to getting this glorious snapshot at the end of Revelation, this magnificent glimpse of eternal life with God. It should likewise encourage us: “Keep on going. Keep on going.”
Well, let’s read a small portion of John’s vision and, then, pray for our time in it this morning. If you’re in the brown Bibles, our text begins on page 1191.
1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
So here we are driving toward these great majestic, theological mountains. What do we learn from our view of them? Well, (1) we learn of paradise regained, and (2) we learn of glory retained.
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
1. A paradise regained (vv. 1-3a).
When we read these five verses, John expects for us to make a connection. There’s a river. There’s a tree. There’s fruit upon that tree. There’s nothing cursed; in other words, it’s all good and very good. These images (as well as other images) should remind us of the beginning chapters of the Bible.
Listen to this description from Genesis chapter two:
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden…. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden… (Genesis 2:8-9a, 10a).
The similarities between these two texts are not coincidental but intentional. This passage in Revelation tells us about Eden recovered, about paradise regained. It helps to provide a perfect bookend for Scripture when paired with Genesis two. It’s absolutely masterful writing!
So here’s your geeky pastor moment for the day. After preaching each week, Benjamin, Ben, and I gather on Monday mornings to give constructive feedback about the sermon—encouragements and critiques to help improve our preaching. It’s a valuable time.
One of the things that we get most “geeked-out” about is when one of us ties his introduction to his conclusion in a meaningful and powerful way. If it happens, we all get giddy with delight and self-approval. It’s really a pathetic sight to see—three grown men joyfully giggling.
Yet, friends, we’re talking about a sermon written by one person in a week. We’re talking about just a few pages of writing. Managing meaningful bookends for a sermon is relative child’s play when compared to what we find in Scripture—in the sixty-six books of the Bible
There, we find dozens of authors over thousands of years who wrote a book with thematic unity and consistent imagery as well as one compelling storyline about a perfect Creator who patiently loves his rebellious creatures so very much that he humbles himself unto death in order to save them.
Oh yeah…and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Moses and John managed to seamlessly tie the introduction and conclusion of the Bible together (and without any pathetic giggling to boot!).
What exactly does this tell us? Well, it tells us the Bible’s not a human book. Rather, the Bible is a divine book. It’s not merely the collected words of some men but the very Word of God to mankind. And, as Christians, we must treat it as such! We must treasure it!
Look, New Year’s Day is just around the corner. You will make resolutions. If you only keep one of them, I pray it’s this: To feast daily upon the mind of God as it’s revealed in Scripture; to take in the settings and the characters and the words with reverent curiosity. Sure, you’ll read confusing things; you’ll have questions. When you do, discuss them with a Christian friend or pastor.
But, if you keep no other resolution this year, keep that one!
So here we have a return to Eden. Yet, before we move to the next point, allow me to say one last thing about this paradise regained.
I don’t think there is one single human being on this planet who would argue for a moment that this world is exactly as it should be. Everybody would change—in some way, shape, or form—existence here on earth if they were able to do so. We’d do away with disease and famine and natural disasters and pain and death. And both the theist and the atheist alike would agree on this point.
Yet, why?! Why would there be universal agreement on this?
Well, the reason we’d all agree is found right here in Revelation twenty-two. We are all dissatisfied with this fallen existence because we weren’t meant for it; we weren’t created for it. Instead, you and I were created for perfect life with God in paradise forever. This is how C. S. Lewis put it:
If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.1
Friends, you were created for another world, the world pictured in this text. You were made for the gospel of Christmas eternal—paradise regained.
Well, let’s turn our focus now to our second and final lesson in this passage. Let’s look at:
2. A glory retained (vv. 3b-5).
When you think about a return to Eden, living in a perfectly renewed world, what about it makes you most excited? This is a good question for us to consider. Perhaps, you’re most excited by the prospect of having no more pain and suffering; or maybe, you’re most excited to see some believing family members or friends whom you’ve lost.
These are excellent things to get excited about, and we should get excited about them. But, these shouldn’t be the main things about which we’re excited when we think of eternal life in the New Heaven and Earth. Rather, the main thing to get excited about, according to this passage (and the rest of the Bible as well!), is experiencing an unhindered relationship with our God. That’s our real treasure. That’s what we should most look forward to.
Listen again to what John says in these last few verses:
…the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever (vv. 3b-5).
Every image, in this passage, points us to the glory that is ours when we’re in intimate fellowship (once again!) with our triune God. Ever since Genesis three, ever since our fall into sin and alienation from God, the biblical narrative has been about our desperate need for reconciliation—a reconciliation, with our triune God, which we could never work for ourselves.
This text is consequently, in a real sense, the climax of the biblical storyline. It’s the moment all the preceding moments—in the redemptive historical event—have anticipated and worked towards. Maybe I can illustrate it this way:
When the Allies in WWII finally won victory in Europe on May 8th of 1945, that wasn’t the climactic moment all the soldiers were anticipating and hoping for. Rather, their real hope was to be reunited with their wives and children and friends. When they were again face to face, that was the real climactic moment!
Just imagine the moment in which a serviceman—who had been separated from his wife and kids for many years—finally stands in their presence once again. Consider how wonderful that moment would have been for the returning soldier. Consider how valuable he’d count seeing their faces and feeling their embraces. That would be the real victory for him—the real climax. Wouldn’t it?!
In a similar way, as believers, we should most long to stand in the presence of our beloved God. We should long to see him face to face and to embrace him—even as our first mother and father were able to in Eden. That’s our real victory, the real treasure of the gospel of Christmas eternal.
That’s the glory of face to face fellowship with God. A glory regained for us!
But remember, we’re not looking for a glory that has been regained here. Instead, we’re looking for a glory that has been retained. We’re hoping to learn about a glory that’s been preserved—a glory that’s been kept intact. So, what is it? How is a glory retained in this passage?
Well, in order to see it most clearly, let us remind ourselves of the storyline of which this is merely the final chapter.
One way to concisely view the biblical narrative is as an attempted robbery. In this analogy, Satan conspires (with humanity) to steal the most cherished entity in all creation—the glory of God. The devil wants the praise, honor, and worship which only God deserves so he tries to rob him of it and gets us to join right along with him. So, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and you and I do the same whenever we refuse to glorify God with our lives.
- When we don’t glorify God with our time…
- When we don’t glorify God with our money…
- When we don’t glorify God with our bodies…
- When we don’t glorify God with our eating and drinking…
- Whenever we do these things (and others) we are being glory thieves!
Consequently, one of the primary questions the biblical storyline begs is: “Will this succeed; will God be robbed of his glory even in the smallest measure?” Well, here in our passage the overwhelming and final answer is: “No!”
In fact, not only will God not be robbed of even one single ounce of glory, but he’ll receive even more glory for having displayed (against the dark backdrop of this attempted burglary) his most glorious and beautiful and righteous character. Through this failed attempt to steal his glory, God will gather even greater honor and praise for himself.
It’s like this—I can tell my wife that I love her and that I would die for her. These statements can even be one hundred percent true, and she can even believe in their truthfulness. Yet, she will have a greater appreciation for my love for her and my willingness to die in order to protect her when I demonstrate it in real time. When, for example, we’re hiking around Yellowstone National Park and stumble upon an angry mother Grizzly, and I put myself in between that mother Grizzly and my wife rather than simply deciding to outrun my wife.
Do you see?!
How great is the glory of God! How magnificent is his love!
Who sits on the throne and receives praise and honor from his servants here? It’s God—the Lamb. That title, Lamb, reminds us of the mercy and love of God. That title reminds us that God’s care for us, his people, is not merely theoretical. That love has been demonstrated:
- It was demonstrated when God clothed Adam and Eve after they sinned and promised them a serpent crushing savior.
- It was demonstrated when God rescued his people from Egyptian slavery and brought them into a land of their own.
- It was demonstrated when God sent them prophets to call them out of sin and to call them back into relationship with him.
- It was demonstrated in these events and numerous other events in history.
- But, it was most profoundly demonstrated when God put on human flesh in order to go to a cross and die in our place—the very sinners and rebels who tried to steal his glory.
Friends, that cross is where God demonstrated that he’s the only one worthy of honor and praise and glory forever and ever. Amen.