The New Harrisburg
Preached by Jason Abbott
I spent ten minutes reading the local news in preparation for this sermon; that’s really all I needed. In ten minutes, I read about shootings in Allison Hill, about child pornography in Carlisle, about an attempted church theft in Lemoyne, and about a burglary in Columbia. And that’s just the local news! No need to call upon faraway places—like Brussels or Bagdad—for such headlines!
In fact, none of us need to venture outside our own neighborhoods or homes for such news. If we reflected for just a little while, we could very easily list plenty of brokenness: abuse, divorce, and death. Such things seem so commonplace to us that I wonder if we still see them as unnatural—as results of living outside of Eden. As Christians, we should. Easter highlights that we should!
You see, Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ which the Apostle Paul describes as “the first fruits”1 of the new natural order of all things—as a reversal of sin and death, as a return to (even an elevation of!) God’s original plan for us. This is the good news of Easter—a new you and a new Harrisburg in Christ!
This sermon’s the final installment in a series called “More People to Love” in which we’ve tried to show how God is redeeming more people and more kinds of people for his glory. How he’s reclaiming the perfection of the Garden of Eden from the corruption of sin and death. How he’s making all things perfect and new. And, how we—at Community Free Church—are called, with God, into this work of loving more and more people! (Page 1191 in the brown Bibles)
22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Knowing where you’re going changes how you drive. When I get in a car with my wife to run errands, I immediately want to know where she wants to go and in what order. It should transform how I’ll drive the trip. In a similar fashion, knowing where history is going should change the way we live now.
That’s what this vision should do for Christians. Seeing where history ends should transform the way we live now. So, in order to understand this passage, we’ll ask (1st) Where is history going? And, if that’s where history is really going, we must ask (2nd) How then should we live?
1. Where is history going?
Well, for those who follow Christ, it’s going to an absolutely beautiful place. This vision of the end is breathtaking. For a much fuller picture of this paradise, you can read all of chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation. However, in these 6 verses, we catch a glimpse of its glory. Here are some highlights:
– Sin is dead (vv. 22, 27).
The author begins by telling us, “And I saw no temple in the city . . .” (v. 22) and concludes by saying:
. . . nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false . . . (v. 27)
Sin is dead! “How so?” you might ask. Well, what was the temple there for? Was it there to be a pretty building? Was it there to flaunt Israel’s national power? Was it there for weddings and funerals? No, no, and no!
The temple and its rights were there to allow sinful people and the holy God of the universe to have relationship. Our sin had broken that relationship with God. Someone, consequently, needed to pay for that sin. Ultimately, Jesus paid the price at the cross. But, until that happened, God instituted the temple sacrificial system as a way for sinful people to have relationship with him.
Friends, when John says, “I saw no temple” there, he’s saying, “Sin is dead.” And if sin’s dead, then it follows that “nothing unclean will ever enter” this city “nor anyone who does” evil. This is an idyllic vision of life; it’s what we long for if we’re being honest. And it’s where we’re headed if we trust in Christ.
Well, the death of sin is the first highlight. The second is the death of fear, and really you could add the death of danger as well.
– Fear is dead (v. 25).
Where do we see this in our passage? Well, John says this rather clearly when he writes:
[This New Jerusalem’s] gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there (v. 25).
In the news story about the shootings on Allison Hill, one resident shared—“I get everything done . . . I need to get done before it gets dark . . .”2 In other words, “I go inside and lock my doors because it’s not safe around here at night.”
But, this isn’t just an Allison Hill issue. I live in quiet little Hummelstown, yet Natalie regularly asks me, just before we go to bed, if I’ve locked all the doors. Why? Because we recognize—no matter where we live!—that there are dangers out there, that there are things to be afraid of! Especially at night!
In the ancient world, cities had walls for a purpose—to keep bad guys out! And, in those cities, each and every night, they wouldn’t just shut the city gates; they would also put night watchmen on the walls. Why would they do all this? Because, there were very real things to be afraid of!
Friends, this one verse would’ve totally floored John’s original audience, many of whom would have slept every single night behind locked city gates—would have feared the failure of those city walls and gates more than anything! Friends, to them, this little verse screamed that, in their forever future with God, fear and danger will be put to death!
You see, in the New Heaven and Earth—in the New Harrisburg—you and I will be able to stroll down to Allison Hill with our sleeping bags and our pillows and in perfect safety and peacefulness gaze up at the stars without fear of danger. That’s what John tells us. Amen to that!
The next highlight of this future is that . . .
– Culture is resurrected and redeemed (vv. 24, 26).
On various occasions, I’ve heard my doctoral advisor at Covenant Seminary ask students—in especially diverse classes—what aspects of their native culture they’re most excited to see redeemed in eternity. And, what follows is always fun and enlarging (for everyone!) as we ponder the great and diverse beauty of food and music and dress and communication and architecture in God’s New Creation. Friends, God is God over human culture and will redeem it!
John gives us a little preview of this when he writes:
. . . the kings of the earth will bring their glory into [the city] . . . They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations (vv. 24, 26).
Cultures will be resurrected and redeemed to the eternal glory of our God! This is the beautiful picture we get here. It’s a picture of the diversity of worship. It’s a vision of the nations (in various and unique ways!) honoring our Triune God. Friends, God’s praise in and for eternity won’t be monolithic—or one dimensional. Rather, it will be breathtakingly diverse and exciting!
This is one reason our church sends its members on short-term mission trips. We want people to have their vision of Christianity—all those who worship God—stretched; and, therefore, their view of the breadth of God’s kingdom stretched. You see, his kingdom is way bigger than we could possibly imagine.
I grew up in a certain church tradition where we sang hymns accompanied by piano (and a piano only!). We stood when we sang, and we sat when we didn’t. While we were singing, it was expected that we would keep our arms at our sides (certainly not raised in the air—never in the air!). If the pastor made a good point then one could possibly nod (but no audible mmm-hmms or amens!).
When I began pastoring in the Free Church, we had a few Ghanaian families in the congregation. In their culture, dancing and singing and the raising of hands and the saying of amens was very normal. It was not wrong. It was simply different than the worship culture I was raised in.
Friends, someday (I hope!) this hands-at-his-side-pastor of yours will dance in worship and praise of God—even as David danced as the Ark of God entered into Jerusalem. (Don’t let that idea detour you from longing for that day!)
Well, the final highlight in this passage is also the greatest.
– God is present and responsible for it all (vv. 22-23).
Everything that is good is because of God. Look at the first two verses:
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb (vv. 22-23).
With God’s unhindered presence, there’s no temple. God is now the temple. Worship is not at a place; it’s at a person. How we worship is no longer hindered because of our sin. God is responsible for taking care of our sin problem in Christ, “as far as . . . east is from . . . west, so far does he remove [sin] from us” (Ps. 103:12). Christ is why sin is dead!
Through God’s unhindered presence, there is glorious light for all to see by. Why is there no dangerous night? Why are the gates not shut? Because of God! God is responsible for doing away with fear and danger. By the work of Christ, God wipes “away every tear” and destroys death, mourning, and pain (Rev. 21:4). Christ is why fear and danger are dead!
See, this beautiful future is because God is present and God accomplishes it. In fact, the joy and beauty that are experienced, in this future scene, stem directly from God’s glorious and unhindered presence.
When we think of eternity, we often mainly think it’ll be good to see people whom we’ve lost in this life, or it’ll be good to have pain and stress gone forever. Yet, while these are very good things, they aren’t what we should long for most! John Piper explains this well when he writes:
[In] eternity . . . we will enter into our master’s happiness (Matthew 25:21). I just love that the master doesn’t say to his servant, “Muster up your own happiness and bring it here, and it is your duty to make yourself happy all the time.” Rather, he says, “Enter into my happiness.” And what makes heaven such a desirable . . . place is that it is permeated by the person of God. It is where God is. We shouldn’t want to be in a heaven without God.3
God is, in a sense, heaven. His unhindered presence is our treasure and joy. Do you long for God above all things? Do you count all as nothing in comparison with having Christ? If not, pray that you would. It is our calling as Christians.
Well, if those are the highlights of John’s vision—if that’s our destination—what changes for us now if we follow Jesus?
2. How then should we live?
Well, I can think of at least four ways it should change how we live this life. First—the pursuit of safety, justice, and prosperity for others should be important to us as Christians. Not in the generic secular sense but, rather, as a foreshadowing or foretasting of what life with God will one day be like!
Friends, if sin, fear, and danger will one day be put to death in Christ Jesus, then Christians should be the enticing fragrance of this coming reality right now for non-believers.
Second—the prospect of diversity in our fellowship should really excite us. We should long for our local churches to be composed of all kinds of people—young and old, rich and poor, black and white, male and female. The full spectrum of those who’ve placed their faith in Jesus Christ!
See, if the kingdom of God is going to be characterized by such diversity then shouldn’t we want to see, at least in part, what this beautiful future fellowship will be like?! And, won’t it speak a powerful word about God to our divided world when we display such diversity?! What else could foster and sustain such a unity across such a divide?
Third—our desire to draw people’s attention to Jesus and God’s good news should increase naturally as we believe more and more in his glorious future plans for this world and for us.
Look, have you ever noticed that people really want to talk about the things which they love most? So, when young people are dating and begin to fall in love, it’s natural for them to constantly want to discuss their new, exciting relationship. And, when people have a really good meal at a restaurant, they want to tell others about it. They want others to know how great it was!
Friends, if we really believe this is our eternal destination in Christ Jesus then we should naturally want to share this amazing news with others! We should! What we talk about will tell us a lot about what we worship.
Finally—the grace of God, displayed in this great future, should compel us to love and serve God with our whole lives. Knowing what awaits us in Christ, knowing where this life ends for us as Christians, knowing we do not deserve it and could never have earned it, puts everything in perspective.
Such future knowledge, of the glory that awaits us, allows us to serve others when there’s no guarantee of reward.
It allows us to turn away from retaliation for wrongs committed against us.
It allows us to pray for those people who have injured us.
It allows us to even love and desire what’s best for all those who hate us.
Friends, there is no better place to end than with the encouragement to look toward this beatific future, which is for all who follow Christ, and, simultaneously, to look at Jesus:
. . . the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross . . . and is [now] seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
May we serve just as Jesus did (not despising the difficult and the shameful!) in light of the glory of God that awaits us in Christ. Amen!