Message I preached 3 years ago on Easter to finish our journey that week.
New Heavens, New Earth Easter Sunday, 2008
Mission and Vision:
Mission: Raising up followers of Jesus Christ who have intimacy with God, Community with believers, and relationship with non-believers or who live life up, in and out.
Vision: We long to see a church multiplying movement in which the kingdom of God comes. As a result deep, authentic relationship with God and with one another becomes a reality, and our city and the un-reached areas of our world are forever changed by His presence.
Hey let me emphasize the PointTeam Training coming up.
Isaiah 65:17-21 Acts 10:34-43 John 20:1-18
Hey Everybody!!!! I have Good News!!! Today is not the end. It is the Beginning!!!!!
OK, I know, it is the end of our little journey we have made this week together.
Hey, was the worthwhile? I have thoroughly enjoyed this week and I have really enjoyed sharing it with you! I have received several emails and have talked to many people who have really enjoyed this week and have been ministered to by Jesus. That has been a joy.
It truly has been wonderful to think and pray with you all as we followed Jesus to the cross and the tomb.
Easter often does feel like the end of the story, doesn’t it?
Guess what. More good news! It isn’t! It is just the beginning.
Do you think we sell ourselves short on this one?
Many of us give something up for Lent for 40 days; we’ve walked the Holy Week path; we’ve been attentive to Jesus’ story for the last several days.
And now what? Well, maybe we need to have a 40 day party or 50 day party up to Pentecost. If we have given something up for Lent, or even if we haven’t, we should certainly take something up for Easter. What do you think?
Well, I will let you decide what you should do about that.
What I want to do today is help you celebrate the first day of God’s new creation.
That is what it is all about.
The gospels don’t really reach a conclusion – they point on to something more that is still to come.
But what is this something more?
What is Easter all about?
How can it help us find the hope we need that’s going to give us energy for the fresh tasks that lie ahead of us now, here in this community?
Identifying a problem:
There is a problem and it stems from the fact that many of us haven’t really been listening to the music.
What do I mean?
Well, let me remind you that we have been talking about the tune which is the story of Jesus, the bass part which is the Old Testament background, and the middle parts which are us and our world.
Too many of us have listened to the tune of Jesus’ resurrection and we have assumed that it’s supposed to harmonize with a bass part that says that the point of it all is simply to go to heaven when we die. Jesus died and went to heaven, and so will we.
Everybody listen: That is not what the Easter stories are all about.
Everybody got your thinking caps on? This might be a hard one to get our heads around, so lets go as slowly as possible within our time frame.
Old Town on one side mountain and a New Town on the other side. The only way to get from Old Town to New Town is through a long tunnel.
Lets say that you are about to go to New Town and right before you enter the tunnel you see a little child on the side of the road (this child has never been in the tunnel so therefore has never been to New Town and has never even heard of New Town.
She asks you, “Where are you going?” You say, To “New Town”
You drive off into the tunnel and disappear from here sight.
Now, guess what she will probably think? That New Town is in the tunnel. But you know that you will travel through the tunnel and come out on the other side in the sunshine and take a few turns and then finally enter New Town.
OK, Listen: It’s the same with what happens after death. People sometimes think and talk as if “resurrection” was what happened at once, as soon as you die.
Jesus died on Good Friday and he wasn’t raised from the dead until three days later.
Where was He in between? I am probably going to give many of you something to wrestle with here.
Well, in Luke’s gospel he says to the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
“Paradise” isn’t the final destination. It is the time of rest and bliss which God’s people pass through in order to get to the final destination.
This is where the illustration of the tunnel is not so helpful, because the tunnel is dark and gloomy, whereas the Paradise we are promised is a place of light and rest for God’s people.
But the point is Paradise is not the final destination. So listen: we need to stop talking about going to heaven as though that is the end of the story – that is not helpful to anyone.
So, where are we headed?
Let’s go back to the bass part, to the Old Testament – to Isaiah.
Isaiah speaks of new heavens and new earth and the New Testament writers pick this up in various ways.
So, this is how it seems to work:
When God made this lovely world, he wasn’t making junk. He doesn’t want to throw it away and do something completely different, as though the ideas of space, time and matter (His creation) was a bad one from the start.
No way: he wants to abolish, from within the world, everything that corrupts, defaces and distorts His beautiful creation. He wants to give the world a GIANT MAKEOVER. Wouldn’t that be a great TV Show!?
Listen: New heavens and new earth – like the present one only with everything that’s bad, sad and degrading abolished forever.
That is what we’re promised! Read Isaiah 65 again.
Hey everybody, that is why resurrection matters and not just “going to heaven”
Don’t get me wrong, if you belong to Jesus you will go to heaven to be with Him. That is what Paradise means. But that is just the long, bright tunnel before the New Town begins.
When God makes new heavens and new earth, he will raise you from the dead and give you a new body so that you can live in the new world – and indeed help God run it.
That is the deal; that is what the New Testament promises, even though many have never ever begun to realize it.
Now we are getting to the Point:
When Jesus was raised from the dead on the first Easter day, it wasn’t simply as though he’d gone through the tunnel and out the other side.
Think back to my Old Town, New Town analogy.
It is though the Mayor of New Town were to suddenly appear in the middle of Old Town, plant his flag there and say, “This part already belongs to me; there is a part of New Town right here.”
In Jesus’ resurrection a part of God’s future, of God’s new heaven and new earth, has come forward in time.
The point of the resurrection is that at Easter a part of the future – God’s promised future, his kingdom – has come forwards to meet us back in the present. (kind of like back to the future)
Are you confused yet? One more example to hopefully help:
Let’s say you have a friend in India. You need to know that when it is 10 in the evening here it is already 10:30 in the morning there.
Now perhaps your friend forgetting what time it is here phones you in the middle of the night.
What happens with the resurrection is like this.
This whole world is still in old time – ten at night, if you like. Evil and death are still at work. We are all still asleep and we think nothing is ever going to be different.
Suddenly we get, not a phone call, but a visit, from someone who is living in New Time. He is already in the new day. He has gone through death and out into God’s new world, God’s new creation, and to our astonishment he’s come forwards into our world, which is still in Old Time, to tell us that the day has in fact dawned and that even though we feel sleepy and it still seems dark out there the new world has begun and we’d better wake up and get busy.
Hopefully that helps.
What was going on that first Easter Morning?
Once we get the bass part straight, we may be able to understand the tune itself.
John 20:1 says “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb…”
And she ran, Peter and John ran, and they were perplexed, worried and scared because this was something they were totally unready for – they never imagined.
We need to understand that for them the idea of “resurrection” had, up to that point, been quite simple.
It was what would happen to everyone at the end – when everyone got through the tunnel to the other side or when the day finally dawned and the Old Time was abolished forever.
Can you imagine meeting Jesus with his body fully alive, more alive than it had ever been because it had been through death and out the other side?
Only gradually did they understand what had happened.
In His death, Jesus had taken all sin, death, shame and sorrow of the world upon himself, so that by letting it do its worst to Him He had destroyed its power, which means that now there is nothing to stop the new creation coming into being.
Jesus’ resurrection body is the first part of the new creation, the sign of the new world that is to come.
In terms of Good Friday as the sixth day, and Holy Saturday as the seventh day, the day when God rested after creation, the day when Jesus rested after redemption, Easter Day is the eighth day, the first day of the new week.
Listen: this isn’t the end, it is the beginning.
Easter is the start of the church’s mission
The church’s mission isn’t about telling more and more people that if they accept Jesus they will go to heaven. That is true, though we need to be telling they about the new heavens and new earth, but it’s not the point of our mission.
Here is the point: If God’s new creation has already begun, those of us who have been wakened up in the middle of the night are put to work to make more parts of new creation happen within the world as it still is.
This is why we need to leave behind, on the cross, all the parts of the old creation that have made us sad, that have depressed us and our communities, and start to pray for vision and wisdom to know where God can and will make new creation happen in our lives, in our hearts, in our homes and in our communities.
This is what regeneration is all about.
Yes, there will always be people who say that it can’t happen, it’s just a dream.
But that is what people have always said – that is what they said to Luther, William Wilberforce, Desmond Tutu, Bruce Olson, …
Everybody listen: the answer is not better politics (though we need that too), the answer isn’t better government funding (though probably wouldn’t be all bad), the answer isn’t better this or that (we probably need this or that).
The answer is that where God’s people celebrate Jesus’ resurrection they discover that new possibilities open up in front of them.
I believe that we all need to renew our commitment to Lord Jesus this Easter.
We need to claim once more that we stand on resurrection ground, not just for ourselves but because of what God wants to do through us.
We need to claim the victory of Jesus Christ over all that is evil, so that we can leave it behind on the cross and go forward to do new things in the power of the Holy Spirit.