The New Jerusalem
It’s a pleasure to be with you during worship. I visited the small group last year when I came for a few days. And I’m also happy to be in a church that is trying to focus on Jesus Christ. That’s not very common, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to other churches. It’s hard to focus on Jesus Christ because we want to focus on ourselves naturally. I think in the announcements, worship and the structure of the whole church I can see that you’re trying to focus on Jesus and that’s a very big blessing.
I’ve been in Thailand for the past eight and a half years. So my son was three when he went there, and what I’ve been doing is a lot of teaching in seminaries and bible studies, and helping with a church plant. After the two month midterm report, it’s not as stressful as college midterm weeks because I can’t really fail. Well I won’t know until way later if I fail, but I just do my thing. I visit supporters, my friends, eat some American beef and go back. It’s been a month and it’ll be a month more before I go back. So let me share with you the word from Revelation. It’s the revelation of Jesus Christ and I hope to share a little bit about Thailand as well.
The title is “The New Jerusalem.” I know it sounds a little old, I tried to come up with a hip title but they all sounded really weird so I just stuck with what was in the Bible – The New Jerusalem. My main question for this is also my conclusion, and my main question is: do you really want it? Because Apostle John here is seeing a vision of Jesus Christ showing him that after all the terrible things, there is a happy ending. The New Jerusalem. And as I was reading this, I was thinking this is great. But then I thought wait, do I want it now? So that got me thinking. We all want this new heaven, new earth, we all want to be with Jesus. We want the new things, not this old cursed system.
Do you remember when God sent the angels to save Lot and his family from Sodom and Gomorrah? They’re running away and the angels told them not to look back and they’d be okay. But one of them looked back and became a pillar of salt which I don’t think is there anymore. The goats probably ate everything. I’ve been there, I couldn’t find it. It’s hard not to look back, right? Just think about that, because Lot’s wife was one of the righteous family that God rescued out of the whole city. It’s kind of like God coming into the city of DC and decides that he’s going to rescue you. Isn’t that kind of special? So I think that Lot’s wife was a special woman, but she couldn’t help looking back.
I think that some of us have that attitude sometimes. We yearn for Jesus, especially on Sunday or during bible study or midterm week, but there are things about our life that we really like. And if I was in college I’d probably be thinking, “Yeah Jesus come back but maybe after I get married.” I don’t know if you guys think that way but think if the world was going to end in the next 30 seconds, would that be good? Maybe you want to wait to get married, have five or ten years to apply your degree, buy a house and then you might want kids. But then your kids grow up a little, my son is eleven going on twelve. You just got your kids, so you probably don’t want the world to end quite yet. So when does it end? You want to see your kids married, I’m sure and then you want to see your grandchildren. There’s this old guy in Bangkok, and I was telling him how much I love doing things with my children. And he said just wait until you have grandchildren, because you haven’t lived until you’ve had grandkids.
Basically it will never end, our desire for what we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands. Like food, right? Is that Starbucks cups that I see? It will never end because it is actually real to us. This is the reality that we are born into and we love it most of the time. So when we think of Revelation we think of the new heaven, judgment, salvation, what we’re living for and what we want to give our lives for. It should be an obvious, “Yes. Come Lord, and fast! Now.” But I don’t think it’s that simple.
For instance in verse 1 there’s a new heaven and new earth, which sounds good, but the first heaven and the first earth has passed away and the sea is no more. In Thailand there are some good beaches, you ever see those calendars? Usually there’s at least one month dedicated to a Thai beach. In fact you could make a movie called The Beach in Thailand. It might make you sad as you begin to think about what it will be like here. But you just have to trust God, and not simply trusting that God will make a “better” earth. God isn’t going to just improve on the ocean. For instance, I like Shake Shack burgers. Are there going to be better burgers in heaven? And maybe that’s the extent to which we’re thinking heaven will be like.
In verse 2, John says he saw the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven prepared as a beautiful bride for Christ, her husband. So John is describing the climax of, basically, the history of the world. From Adam, before that, Moses, and the conclusion is the New Jerusalem coming down. This is the wedding, after all the dating and break-ups and getting back together. Girls probably dream about weddings a little bit more than the guys, with wedding gowns and everything that goes into one. I hope the guys don’t dream about that. But as a group, we are dedicating ourselves to Christ. That’s the analogy, because marriage is a very intimate human relationship. That’s why this relationship is used to describe our relationship with Christ. It’s the most intimate relationship that we can understand, and we are the bride of Christ. And think about the anticipation, it’s almost like a little girl who has been dreaming about this moment for all her life as she listens to fairy tales. Fairy tales are very bad… seriously.
Here is this wedding between Jesus Christ and the church – us. But this is the kind of fairy tale wedding that we should dream about. I’m not sure how much we look forward to this future, and how much it influences our present. If we are really looking forward to this kind of future, we would not be laughing when we talk about a world without an ocean or without snow. If we have a child-like faith, and we put our trust in Jesus Christ, gave up his life and blood to save us. Now this is what we’re looking for, to die is gain and live is Christ. If that’s truly our child-like faith, it should affect how we worship on Sunday or work on Mondays. Everything that we do should be influenced by our dream, and our future dream should affect our present.
God With His People
The third verse, now the dwelling of God is with man, and he will live with them. They will be his people and he will be their God. This is kind of scary because imagine your pastor living with you. Now we can’t compare pastors to God, but think of a human Christian leader. Imagine a person that you can relate to living with you. It might be fun for a few days, but do you really want your pastor there when you’re writing your papers? Do you really want your pastor there when you’re in the office taking shortcuts? Maybe not working hard when your boss isn’t there, watching you but not judging you. We don’t judge right? We’re postmodern people. Imagine your pastor there with you when you’re dating. If you think that sounds awkward, how about God? This might be a little different than how I am with you right now. Right now, we have the Holy Spirit so God is with us all the time. Our pastors are not with us, but God is with us all the time. Maybe we’re not aware of it or maybe we don’t care or maybe we’re in denial. You know we love God but not with all our hearts, not 100%. We go to small groups, and play the part of a leader, read our bibles but how much do you want God? I think it’s a good gauge of our current spiritual condition based on how excited or scared you are when you hear that.
This is the reason why we have church. This is why we have pastors and why I’m in Thailand. My full-time job is to explain and share the gospel of Jesus with the people of Thailand. I’m here for two months reporting about that. I’m not saying in order to be a Christ-like person that you have to be a pastor. It could be the impression that we get especially at a young age. You look up to that youth pastor who says he was going to be an engineer until he met God and is now a pastor instead.
Having been a pastor for a long time in a church situation, it is sometimes easy to express my faith because it’s my occupation. But when I was a college volunteer back in Connecticut, I was there just because I just wanted to. And I read the read the bible more in college than I did in seminary because they forced us to read all these other boring books. College, all my ministries were pure joy because no one was forcing me to do them. The ministries were out of pure desire, and I thank God for giving me that desire. When I became a paid pastor, regardless of whether I wanted to worship, I still had to. That made it hard for me to understand myself, I wondered do I want to do this or do I have to do this? It became a job. What I’m saying is that if it’s expected of us, we have to do it.
Worshiping In Everyday Life
If you imagine yourself in the office, I don’t think your boss is expecting you to share the gospel of Jesus with them. It’s a little different, it’s harder, and is kind of like being out in the wild. The church is like a safe haven where we can praise God. So in some ways it’s a bit easier being a pastor. I do believe as a pastor there are more responsibilities, so you should pray for your pastors. I’m not saying that there’s no difference between pastors and others, there is a difference in responsibilities. But what I’m talking is when we express our faith, you don’t necessarily have to be a pastor to prepare for the future. If you’re studying to be a teacher, I hope that you have the same kind of fear and trembling that a lot of pastors are taught to have before they go into ministry. You’ll be teaching children, and maybe it’s for the money, but you should be doing it for the Lord. It should be the same act of worship that you have in church, and it should be honorable to God. That’s more important than it is to please your boss or students or customers.
In the church you can see a lot of models of Christianity. We see pastors or worship leaders, but we also see people who are folding chairs and helping set things up. These are examples that we see inside the church, but it’s harder to see examples outside the church. There are a lot of pressures to keep our faith quiet in order to fit in. I think one of the biggest weaknesses in the church is that we have too few people outside the church having the same faith when we’re inside the church.
The final verse is a very hopeful one. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. This verse is telling us that it’s all going to be gone, there won’t be any suffering anymore. In Buddhism, which is what I deal with, the solution is to explain that there is no suffering. What we’re perceiving is not real, there is no self and so our consciousness of self is an illusion. That was kind of a weird solution to the problem of suffering. Many Buddhist people don’t understand this concept. If it doesn’t make sense to you, it doesn’t make sense to a lot of Buddhist friends that I know in Thailand. They live more like old Hindu animist people, aspiring to do good and drink less alcohol in order to go to some form of heaven. That’s what they generally believe, some kind of folk Buddhism. But if you read the Buddhist books there’s a Buddhist theology about illusions and cycle of suffering.
God’s Solution to Suffering
The biblical solution to suffering is not that what we see is an illusion, but that God will save us. The ultimate end of the history of the world, in heaven, there will be no suffering or death or tears. Many of us are young, we’re not going to die soon, but we still deal with suffering. When you get to be a little older, you start feeling weaker and you get injured quicker. Your friends start dying, your parents die, and then you die. It’s hard to go through or see people you love go through sickness and watch bodies deteriorate. So this verse is something that should make everyone excited. Even for people who might not read the bible, this is better than the current health care we have because it’s true. However this verse ends with, “…the former things have passed away.” We have to make a decision for Christ, and it has to be clearer and clearer every day. To die is gain, like Apostle Paul said, and to live is Christ. How clear is that? I hope that becomes clearer every day in our lives. As it becomes more of a reality, it should be evident to our friends that it’s more of a reality in our lives. It should show in our attitude, how we deal with the present, and even the way we recognize the past.
Even in the last twenty years I’m sure most of you have had bad experiences, and maybe even in the last week. Sometimes it’s not that significant so we can brush it off, but sometimes the pain is real. So what do you do? You can’t change the past, but what you can change is your attitude towards God. How do you change your act of worship based on the past? It’s all internal, you and God. Do you really trust that God has a wonderful plan for your life? You might be thinking, Pastor Paul you don’t know about my life. What I’m saying is you’re right, I barely know your names, and I’m going to be gone tomorrow morning. I feel like I didn’t suffer when I was growing up in Thailand. When I was walking around with the sole of my shoe coming off, it didn’t bother me. But my parents would talk about how they felt bad about some of the things I went through, but I don’t remember that. I think it’s God’s grace, because I think God can protect children or people from things like that. So for you, when you look back on the past, how do you feel? When you look back on the past, do you feel like God robbed you?
Changing Our Perspective
I’ve watched that first world problems video, which is kind of funny. But suffering, for anybody, is suffering. Just look at the people who have gone through harder things than us. If you remember in 2 Kings 5, Naaman the general had leprosy which is a skin disease. This is when they would sell people as slaves. The slave girl, whose name is not mentioned in Scripture, she told him if you go to Israel there is a man of God that can heal you. To make a long story short, Naaman is healed which is nice and well. What I’m saying is that the slave girl, she may have been separated from her family. Maybe she saw her parents die when her village was raided. But this young girl, who knows how old she is, is abducted and is sold to Naaman. If she’s a slave to a general, she was probably pretty and from a well-to-do family. There are different classes amongst the slaves, the stronger and attractive ones are slaves to more powerful people. It’s like that in Thailand too, people sell kids and they go to different places depending on how they are.
If we were to be sold as a slave, how would we interpret our past? In terms of our relationship with God. Some friends of mine stop believing in God when something bad happens to them. I’m not sure if you’ve gone through that or seen someone go through that. God doesn’t love me anymore because my father died. That doesn’t’ make sense but it is how we feel a lot of times which drives to hate God. You hate him so much you stop believing in him, which also doesn’t make sense. If you hate him then you must believe that God exists, but it’s an emotional thing. So if you’re sold as slaves, I hope that you can worship God with the same kind of joy that you do today. I think what the girl did, helping her master, it seems like she had a positive view of her past in her relationship with God. Because of her Naaman became a believer. I don’t know what she did after that, but simply from that alone I think she will be one of the great heroes when we see her in heaven. All she did was tell Naaman of the man in Israel who could heal him and becoming a believer.
Living For Our Dream
This is something that most professional missionaries can’t do with all their skills and training. This is how God works. I don’t want to be sold as a slave, you can ask my wife because I don’t even like doing dishes. In our past, with all the pain that we have we might not convert a general of the enemy but what will you do? You are in contact with people all the time, every one of you. I’m not in contact with your friends, Pastor Kenny probably isn’t either. Who will represent Christ to your friends and lab partners? You could be like the slave girl, you don’t have to preach. But in that real-life situation, you might know what to say better than the professional pastors and missionaries. How will your response be? I think that will depend on how you view your past, how you view God, and how you view the future. The clearer vision we have of heaven, and the more child-like we are in yearning for that, the more focused we can be. Just by being ourselves in real-life situations, we can represent Christ.
That’s really missions, I’m trying to do that in Thailand which means I’m not doing it here. Instead you guys are here, and it’s not just in the church and small groups. Wherever God puts you, you might be the only Christian that your friend knows. I want us to wake up and think, do I want this? This picture of heaven that we see in Revelation of Jesus Christ. You can be honest with yourself, you might think not today. Today I have date, and to me a date is more important than God. Not funny, you know? But that’s often how we live. I hope you can put that into perspective. I don’t want to stress you out, but even when we sleep let’s honor God with that. Sleep with that attitude, not just that we’re tired. But why are you sleeping? Why aren’t you witnessing? Not that you should be out there at 2am, but let’s sleep so we can be replenished to be a greater witness for God the next day. Let’s have that kind of attitude. Why should we eat healthy? Not to get a 6-pack. Let’s be healthy so we can be more alert and better witnesses for Christ. We’re encouraged by the bible to really dream for that one thing: Jesus Christ and heaven on earth. And this terrible thing called judgment which is actually salvation, but that’s God’s plan so we dream about that.