Brothers and Sisters, Our call to worship come from Rev 7: 13-17:
13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
16 Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Let us take a moment now as we continue to prepare ourselves for this evening’s service, in silent and individual prayer.
· Congregation of the Lord…
Our Help does come from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth, Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God our father, and in Jesus Christ the Savior; Amen.
· Lets sing in praise and glory to our God (musos)
· Please turn with me now to the green book of forms, pg11, as we state clearly our faith in almighty God – Amen
· Let’s sing in response
· Brothers and sisters as we sit here in the comfort and care of God’s love, lets open our hearts as we consider our offering for the work of the Kingdom. The offering this evening is for the local church and for the Christian Reformed Churches Youth Committee.
· Our elder of Service, Mr Reg Bouwer will lead us in prayer and thanksgiving for the offering
· Our Bible reading is from Romans 8: 18-39 (Greg taylor will lead us in the reading
Sermon – The future – heaven on earth!
Brothers and Sisters,
How often do we think about the future – that which we carefully refer to as …heaven, or life after death….
And how often do you talk about it with your friends or loved ones,
with your husband perhaps, or your wife, your children, neighbours?
And can it be that it is because we don’t really know what the future will be like, that we don’t talk about it that often?
Of course we do talk about the future at least sometimes.
We did so just now when we said the Apostles creed,
when we said we believed in “the life everlasting.
And when we pray the Lord’s prayer we say something about the future that is actually a very accurate hint of what the future will be like,
we pray “Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven!”
But more often, it seems to me, we think backwards when we are contemplating the future – for instance, we think and talk about the future when we try and work out whether we have provided enough for old age; for our children’s education…
Paul, in our passage, seems to say that the real future lies beyond the time and space of this world, and that it will be those who look forward …rather than backwards,
those who live in hope…in spite of the past or (even the present)…of a future time and indeed to a future world, a physical world, an up to now yet unseen world – it is really them who have the future all worked out – and they do speak about it quite frequently!
For those of us who do not speak about this glorious future freely, why is it so?
I think it is because this world does a great job at discouraging us… this life iss so hard, that we get discouraged on every front – not least……in our faith!
There is a legend that has it that the devil once advertised his tools for sale at public auction.
When the prospective buyers assembled, there was one oddly-shaped tool which was labeled “Not for sale.” Asked to explain why this was, the devil answered,
“I can spare my other tools, but I cannot spare this one. It is the most useful implement that I have. It is called Discouragement,
and with it I can work my way into hearts otherwise inaccessible.
When I get this tool into a man’s heart, the way is open to plant anything there I may desire.”
Brothers and sisters, there is but one tool with which we remove this instrument of the devil – faith! Faith is a multipurpose tool, and among its blades, apart from the main blade, which is a double edged sword, is hope, and trust, and love..
When Paul writes to the suffering Christians in Rome, who by the way are really living in disheartening, trying times, perilous times, he assures them of a future so glorious, that for all those who believe, their present sufferings by comparison, pales into insignificance.
And he wants them to believe in it, hope for it, knowing full well they cannot see it…yet!
So he goes about explaining it to them.
that glorious future that awaits the children of God,
that wonderful future that makes even this life, with its suffering,
all worth living – even now!
Do you believe that such a future awaits us?
Let me ask again then:
How often do you speak to others about this future, the future of the Kingdom and the Glory of God?
And …what exactly does it mean?
What does it mean when we say the words of the Apostles creed:
“we believe in “the resurrection of the body and life ever lasting.”
… what exactly does it mean?
And on a practical level, when we leave here on Sunday, and travel towards Monday and Tuesday and all the other days until next Sunday,
do we then still think and talk about what these things of the future mean?
The context of Paul’s letter to the Romans is this:
Paul was on his third missionary journey, on his way back to Jerusalem, and he is feeling disappointed that he has not been able to visit the young church in Rome yet.
Ever since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, congregations have formed all over the empire, and in Rome, it is no different.
There, too, a group of believers have come together, just like us here today,
but these are early days for the young Church, and Paul is mindful that they need instruction and encouragement in their faith.
Why? Because they are becoming disheartened.
The Roman believers are being persecuted from all sides.
(And persecution in Rome in those days means you may be live bait for the lions in the arena, or you may be lit as a torch in the night.
One Church Historian quotes one of the Ceasers saying that Christians made particularly good torches, they burnt a bit longer and brighter, he said!)
And just like today, the Christians are in the minority, surrounded by the idol worshipping Romans.
They were trying to live their lives by the directions of the apostles, as their faith under the previous instruction of Jesus required it,
but they were living in a world where personal freedom and rights far outweighed the doctrine of love and responsibility that Christ asked his followers to exercise, so they are avoided or even ignored by most of society. They are pressured to conform…
And also in Chapter one, from verse 28, Paul lists some characteristics of a fallen world the way he observed it… and in a way we today may still observe the current world.
Chapter 1 from verse 28:
“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. And then verse 32…32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
Paul is writing to the gentile Christians who, although they know God’s righteous decree, have become disheartened and have submitted to secular society.
And now it is everyman and every woman for himself or herself, and the result?
…most are living with no hope for any kind of future any longer.
In fact, they are not even thinking about it – and they certainly don’t speak about it in encouragement to each other any longer.
Dare we do a little exercise…?
Here we are, 2000 plus years after the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus…
how much of what was written about Rome and the Romans in that time, remains true for Sydney and Sydneysiders, today? Quite a bit, it seems!
Just recently there again surfaced talks on the pros and cons of gay marriages – as if it is just another a topic for debate, right next to or up there with social injustice discussions, like poverty, or health care, should we still get married…!
The words of a song comes to mind…”we like sheep have gone astray, turned each one to his own way…”
And it is important to add right now that: not only the people, but the world too remains in the throes of sin:
Think of the recent reports of the terrible drought that continues to plague large parts of the country…we hear of earthquakes; hurricanes; tsunamis (all the signs of a broken creation)
It is not new. We all know that!
In Roman times too we find historic reports of devastating volcanic eruptions (like Vesuvius)…
Yes, the creation is indeed “groaning” … (verse 22) right up to the present time.
And we continue to groan: Just like the Christians then were not spared the suffering; Christians today are not spared the suffering.
But…brothers and sisters, here’s the thing…
Christians… believers … may suffer differently:
this is what Paul is saying to them.
Believers in our Lord Jesus do suffer, but they suffer with the full knowledge of …hope!
Hope for a new heaven and a new earth,
and we may suffer… with an inward smile on our face (or at least a knowing grin, depending on the circumstances)
for we, through faith, know that Paul has it right when he says that
the joy and harmony that is to come, will far outweigh the present day sufferings.
In summary up to now: we have said,
i) the very creation- this physical world is groaning in its fallen, sinful state
…(verse 22 and 23): “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
ii) (And we suffer) …verse 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
When Paul writes in verse 22 “the whole creation has been groaning,” he purposely puts it alongside “but we ourselves” referring the Roman believers, the first Christians of that time…
those who shared either directly or indirectly on the grounds of their faith in Jesus the Saviour - in receiving the Holy Spirit, first at Pentecost as related to us in Acts, and later, all who believe.
Why does Paul draw this distinction between the creation and the believers?
He does so, because he wants to demonstrate without any doubt that everything that is,
everything that ever has been,
everything that has ever happened,
and everything that is yet to come…
the whole world and every person that he has made, is in God’s plan,
even right up to the present day in this fallen world, even amidst the suffering we who believe are safe in the arms of Jesus – that is what God’s promise is all about.
This is how it has been since creation, through the fall; this is how it will be until our Lord Jesus returns to establish the new heaven and the new earth and tis is how it will be for ever more!
Now if those to whom Paul writes this letter, wanted to check whether Paul has it right, all they had to do was read the Scriptures that they already had, even then.
And we can do the same!
Of course they, like us, can see the suffering part first hand – we live it every day
but as certain as the suffering in this world…is the promise of a better life to come – Our Bible – the Word of God – is full of it!
By the grace of God, Paul, when the Lord paid him a visit on that road to Damascus saw the light and the truth and the way forward … and suddenly the scriptures made sense to him. ..
And when that happens, Paul is no longer disheartened.
When he sees that the future glory is written on every page of the scriptures, from the earliest of times, Paul can honestly say …hang in there!
It will all, surely, soon be!
In other words, now Paul, by Gods grace a recent convert, understands.
He can see God’s plan unfolding and now he shares it with the people of Rome …
and of course, because it is in our Bible, he shares it with us this evening and in truth, when we consider history and place it alongside the Word of God – we should see it just as clear as Paul did – we who have the advantage of 2000 years of hindsight and learning!
But there are none so blind as those who will not see!
The pagan Romans and the unbelievers – miss this truth.
Why? Because they are too caught up in the present world.
And they have no hope for a future.
But Paul’s does: and in the latter part of verse 22 and 23 of his letter to the Roman believers, he spells it out….
When Christ comes again - as He surely will – he writes, (verse 21) “we, the children of God…we who have “the first fruits of the Spirit” (verse 23), we “the saints(verse 27) “those who God foreknew” (verse 29) us, you and I,.
“…He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.”. even in the midst of the heartaches and pains of this fallen world.
We, Paul says, will be conformed to be like Christ!
And by God’s grace we already know what Christ, God’s son, was like.
– What a wonderful thing to look forward too, to be like Christ in every way.
Brothers and sisters, let’s just make sure…
Who are they who will share in God’s new kingdom?
“those who love Him” (verse 28);
who are they? “those who have been called according to His purpose (the last bit of verse 28).
It is they…us… who will be renewed in body and spirit to become the inheritors of the Kingdom of Christ, the inheritors of a new world
---Let there be no doubt!
And it gets better - Not only us, but indeed God’s physical creation, our world, too, this world we live on will be renewed.
Verse 19: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed…to be liberated from its bondage to decay (verse 21).
And so our physical world, too, can, and indeed does, look forward to that which will surely be – a time when there will no longer be heartache and pain, death and destruction.
Surely…if we have this hope, this understanding, our very attitude to life, this life, even this difficult life…changes, too?
We live life differently. We do our jobs, differently.
Now we don't just work for money and our super for the three score and ten years we may have on this earth
we strive for justice for all men;
we do our bit to look after God’s creation;
we rethink how the work we do can be done for God's glory
And we talk to people about the glorious future that awaits those who persevere and believe, in spite of the temporary hardship of this world.
We talk about it to everyone – for surely, this is something worth looking forward to!
…and the earth, the physical earth that we live on may - and does - look forward to it in the full knowledge that it will happen.
How can we know? Well, we know because clearly the world, again according to the Bible, Gods infallible Word, the world already has a plan in place for when that day will arrive.
Brothers and sisters see it described.
Psalm 98, I read from verse 7:
7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy;
9 let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.
That is the way the world will react, as it is described in the Psalms.
How will we respond?
And why wait? Even now, we should join in the joyful preparation for God’s future glory.
Our lives should reflect our hope in what surely, truthfully, will be.
Brothers and sisters, for the full unravelling of the story, let’s return to God’s word, as we should always do.
Let’s be brave this evening an attempt an overview of the Bible.
Actually, it’s not that hard:
the Bible is clearly the unfolding story of how, ultimately, as Paul puts it in verse 28:
“… in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. But why?
All for His glory, right up to the end in this life, and in all eternity hereafter.
We are after all, God’s creation, recorded in Genesis.
And even from Genesis, we see God’s promise of this glorious sharing in God’s kingdom, right in the beginning of the Bible, in the story of the creation and the perfect Eden.
We see God’s care for his creation, in promises to Abraham Isaac and Jacob, to Moses, and David; and Isaiah;
so, it is there in the beginning, in the middle …and if that is true, we should be able to find a reference at the end of the Bible too, shouldn’t we?
Let’s turn to the word of God: Revelation 22:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
That, brothers and sisters, is what it will be like when, as Paul says, the glory of God will be revealed.
We can now start completing the picture: as the Psalmist says,
on that day: …the mountains, the rivers, the ocean the trees will leap and clap in joy and applaud the God of all mercy that has made us and them for Himself.
And here in Romans, Paul writes, nothing, nothing in this world, none of our sufferings, our groaning, will keep us from this wonderful day - verse 39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
One last reference as I finish:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
The future is not some vague happy place.
The future is not, as the popular picture portrays it – heaven, where we will fly around on angels’ wings!
It is not a pie in the sky when we die!
The future is a physical future, this reality built on the promise of a perfect life in the presence of God, a promise made by God Himself – the God who already once before made a perfect world.
Brothers and sisters, how often do we think about the future, this future?
Do we believe we will be part of this future?
Well, you and I who by God’s grace believe! We may know this much this evening - our future is assured.
We have been set apart from the beginning and we will share in His Kingdom on that day when the mountains and the seas and rivers rejoice at His coming again,
as surely as we are alive and living in this world by God’s grace.
How can we know?
I recall a Cross on the outskirts of Jerusalem,
…and the words of a song come into my mind…
“Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong….”
I hope the chorus …echoes in all of our hearts and in our mind as we walk out of Church this evening
…and into the world…
God’s wonderful world.
(turn to next page………………………
Heavenly Father, God of mercy and of love,
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned him with glory and honor.
Father God, thank you that we may look up to you, and know all of this.
Thank you that we may recall the cross, and know that we are truly loved.
And thank you that we may know also that not only did Jesus die on that cross, but that He rose again and that we may know that like Jesus, we too will be risen from the dead to partake in your Heavenly Kingdom.
Help us now Lord to live our lives here on earth with a fervour to bring glory to Your Kingdom, to live our lives in love for you and for our brothers and sisters in the faith – and in ways also that will show those who do not yet believe, that Your way is the only way to everlasting participation in Your glory.
Forgive us Lord for not always showing that love.
And through it all, help us father God, to keep our hope firmly set on You alone.
In Jesus’ name we pray - Amen!
Brothers and sisters, lets sing again. Lets stand as we sing ReJoySingII 461 (Oh the Splendour of His greatness) and after the song, lets remain standing for the benediction, before we depart from each others company, going out into the world singing BOW 531 (I will arise…)…Lets sing
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers (Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979).