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08.16.15 Heavenly Worship Right Here on Earth Revelation 21:1-11 Sermon Summary

by on August 17, 2015

You should work hard in worship. That’s true not just for pastors, but for you. The reason is this is how we avoid the “second death.”

Summary Points

  • Two perspectives on suffering in our lives
  • A foundational characteristic of God and the basic message of the Bible
  • How David avoided the second death
  • How we avoid the second death

Last summer I watched a swimmer practicing at the Olympic Training Center. He had tethered himself to the wall with a bungee cord and swam as hard as he could for as long as he could. Eventually he reached the point of exhaustion and the cord pulled him back to wall. Worship is like that.

Ancient Israel had begun to return from Exile. In 587 BC the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and deported the prominent citizens. But in 538 Cyrus the Persian allowed them return. Our passage from Isaiah is from that time.

While in Exile, the people contemplated their fate. At first, they concluded that this happened because of their sin, and in the Bible we can find examples of this thinking. Another perspective turned to God’s faithfulness. “Eventually God will deliver us, regardless of our sin,” they thought, “Because God is faithful.”

From this perspective they envisioned God as the maker of a New Heaven, a New Earth, and a New Jerusalem. Isaiah is an example of this vision. The ecstatic return to Jerusalem caused the people to envision an exhaustive restoration of all creation. The wolf and lamb, the lion and the ox, will share meals together instead of the one eating the other. And the serpent will be just that—a serpent, not a tempter.

The Book of Revelation picks up these same visions. There we find the New Heaven, Earth, and Jerusalem. There we find the restoration of the people of God from an unfaithful spouse to a new bride. And the “sea,” that symbol of a chaotic creation which God tamed in the first chapter of the Bible, “will be no more.”

Both Isaiah and Revelation testify to a God of Starting Over, a God of second chances, of return, restoration, and recreation, a God of homecoming. In his life, Jesus brings this message to a dramatic climax. He reminds the people of Israel, and us, that this God is the God of Life after Death.

This core message of the Bible is perhaps nowhere better summarized than in Lamentations 3: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Every morning is a resurrection; every morning is a second chance.

But what about those of us who have really messed things up? What if our previous failures can’t be reset overnight, and what if our darkness can’t be chased away by the rising sun?

King David had that problem. One morning God’s chosen and blessed monarch saw beautiful Bathsheba the wife of Uriah bathing. He had her brought to his house and got her pregnant. He tried to cover up his affair by recalling Uriah from the battle field for a respite at home with Bathsheba. But Uriah, a man of honor, would not enjoy the leisure of freedom until all his soldiers could do so. He would not sleep with Bathsheba. So David redeployed him to the most dangerous front of the battle and thereby had him killed. Then he married Bathsheba.

Their lovechild was born sick, and David began to suffer for his wrong. He lay prone on the ground in prayer and fasting for seven days straight. His advisors worried about him, but he would not relent. Finally the child died and David got up, bathed and dressed, and feasted. Now his advisors were thoroughly confused: David had fasted and prayed while the child was sick, but feasted when the child died. Eventually Bathsheba gave birth to Solomon, David’s successor.

By his seven day fast and prayers, David avoided the “second death” mentioned in Revelation. The first death naturally occasions loss and grief. When we don’t deal appropriately with the first death, we experience the second death. Sometimes we add ego to the first death: “I can make it through this if I just try a little harder.”

Sometimes we add resentment towards God: “God did this to me unfairly.” Sometimes we add victimization: “My life is so unfair.” When we do these things, we don’t deal with the first death. When we do this again and again we lose hope. We experience the second death, and third, and fourth, ad infinitum, for as long as we don’t deal with the first death.

But not David. He avoided the second death by grieving the first one. He knew he had done wrong and that his suffering was justified. But instead of trying again in his own strength to correct his mistake, he turned to God in prayer and fasting, finally placing his hope in God.

Jesus also avoided the second death. In the garden prior to his arrest he prayed that the cup of his destiny might pass him by, but even in his grief he concluded, “not my will, but rather yours, be done.”

Isaiah’s people also avoided the second death. In 66:2 God says it’s not those who offer ostentatious worship who will return to Jerusalem, but rather “the humble and contrite in spirit, those who tremble at my word.”

The people of Revelation who avoid the second death are the “thirsty” to whom God will give “water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” They admit their thirst, they admit their need, they depend on God. These are the ones who “conquer,” are “victorious,” and who “overcome.”

That swimmer struggles against the bungee cord day after day. The cord holds him back and keeps him from realizing his potential. But he keeps swimming. The cord is unfair. It’s stronger than he is. He won’t reach the other side. But he keeps swimming.

One day he will take that cord off. His struggle against the cord will yield. The serpent will be just a serpent—there will be nothing holding him back. He will swim with strength, grace, beauty all the way to the other side.

Worship is training. It is practice. In worship we grieve the losses but we hope in God. In worship we struggle against the cords of death. We don’t deny loss, injustice, war, and sin. But we struggle against them. It is hard work.

But worship is also when we hope for that time when, with Isaiah and Revelation, we “forget the former things” because we remember the God of second chances who overcomes death and who can rescue us from the second death. All this because we worship the God of the New Heaven and New Earth.

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