A sermon on Revelation 21 v. 1 – 17, published in the Baptist Times on January 14th 2010

Sermon summary

 The biggest publishing phenomenon of last year was the astonishing success of The Shack as it shot to number 1 in the New York Times bestseller list and number 15 on Amazon’s worldwide rating.  That this should happen with a book which centres around the worst nightmare of the abduction and murder of a child is astonishing.  Its success is due in part to its beautiful writing, but also because it stares the worst in the face and comes back with the best.  One reviewer describes it as ‘the best kind of prayer, filled with sweat and wonder and transparency and surprise’.

 John’s words in Revelation, written from the midst of his particular nightmare, bring two powerful words of hope to the Christian who suffers.  The first is that God knows all about their suffering.  He only offers to wipe the tears from their eyes because he can see them.  He sees the tears shed in secret, just as he heard the cries lifted in secret when his people were enslaved.  This startling vision, given to a crumpled apostle in a wretched penal colony is an assurance of this.

 John’s second word is that God will come to those who suffer.  He will pitch into our suffering, just as he once pitched his tent in the midst of his refugee people and showed his face in the fiery furnace.  The Christian’s greatest hope is not God’s imminent arrival, whereby their suffering comes to an end – but his immanent presence – whereby they are not left alone to endure.

Scriptural questions

  •  To those who enjoy a day by the seaside, the promise in Revelation 21 v. 1 that there will be ‘no longer any sea’ may seem strange and unwelcome.  To people of Jewish origin, who traditionally feared the sea as a symbol of chaos – it would have read differently.
  •  What parallels do you find between John’s seven verses here and Isaiah 43 v.2?  

Current questions

  • John’s letter from the Isle of Patmos was unsolicited by Christians on the mainland, and yet has been treasured by their descendants for generations.  How do you know when it is right to speak up to a person who is suffering?
  • Is there ever a point where courage in adversity is denial rather than faith?

 

‘This is the God who can gouge out oceans with a look and scatter stars with a flick of his wrist.  This is the God who can shove galaxies beyond the reach of man with a finger.  And yet here he is, rolling up the corner of his handkerchief to dab away the tears from the eyes of his people at the end of time.’

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