Sunday, May 22, 2022

Revelation.21.9-14; 21-27; Sixth Sunday after Easter; May 22, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:9–14, ESV) And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:21–27, ESV)

(Thanks to Rev. David Peter)

“Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posy, ashes, ashes, we all fall down!” That’s a little ditty we’ve all heard since we were children. What kind of pictures does that bring to your mind? Maybe it is children playing in green grass, in sparkling new Easter clothes, surrounded by flowers that send up their wonderful scents, a kind of a perfect world, carefree and happy.

Did you know that that little rhyme has a completely different origin? It was born in a world of pain and death. Nearly 300 years ago when the bubonic plague was sweeping across England. Nearly 150,000 people fell victim to it, almost one third of the population of Europe died. Death and pain were a part of everyday life. It was called the “black plague” because of the mood it left in its wake, and the black splotches it left on its victims.

We know that the plague is spread by infected rats and fleas but in those days they though that it was caused by bad air, pollution in the city. Their method of treatment was to try to replace the bad air with good air. An infected person would go into a garden and stand in the middle of a rose garden so that the roses formed a ring of protection around them. If a person were too sick to leave their bed, doctors would place posies in their pockets and all around them in their rooms. And as a last effort if the victim was near death, the flowers would be burned, and the ashes placed in the dying persons nose. None of these treatments worked, of course, and people continued to die. The nursery rhyme that we so easily associate with a wonderful picture of a perfect world really comes from voice of the men whose job it was to collect the dead. They would speak it as they pushed their carts through the city, gathering the bodies.
Ring around the rosies, pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

The fact that we still have the rhyme is a testament of the deep scars left after the plague.

The “Black Plague” is mostly gone now. It hasn’t plagued people and caused its special kind of pain and death for a few hundred years. But pain and death are still with us. In fact, we face pain and death every single day. Listen to the local radio stations on any given day there is always funeral announcements. With each one is a family grieving the loss of a loved one. With each one death has interrupted life. “Black Death” really hasn’t left us at all. You and I will also die, and it may be sooner than you think. Ask the victims of the Boston shooting. We all would love to live in a perfect world where death and pain didn’t stalk us.

All through history people have looked for and not found a perfect world. The 18th and 19th centuries were centuries of optimism. Technology was advancing all over the world. People were beginning to think that with it they could and would eventually remove all the world’s pain and suffering. But that technology became the instrument of the sinful human heart at its worst, during the 20th Century as two World Wars showed just how much pain and suffering, and death could be caused by people wielding technology. Millions died in battle, by firing squad, gas chambers, starvation, and disease, “Black Death hung over the world again.” And now at the beginning of the 21st Century we still see pain and death. Smart bombs don’t change the fact that bombs are made to kill people. We once again stand under the threat of nuclear weapons and mass shooters take out unsuspecting victims. And we ourselves are guilty of allowing more than a million babies to be killed before they even had the opportunity to take their first breath. The perfect world is no closer now than it was 300 years ago when the technology explosion began.

Nowhere is it more evident that the perfect world isn’t at hand than right here in our own families, our own hearts. We see it right here as families break up, and children suffer the consequences. We watch as our loved ones age and their bodies break down. Diseases like cancer plague the population. And right here in our own hearts we see the greed, the hate, and self-service that we struggle with every day. “Black Death” is right here, is has never left us. Death is all around and within us, “we all fall down.”

Some people say that the presence of evil in the world is a sure sign that there is no all powerful, loving god. But our faith doesn’t deny the reality of life here among “Black Death,” in this not-so-perfect world. As a matter of fact, it gives us a very realistic picture of life on this corrupt planet. Look at all the stories of pain and death found in God’s Word. Look at the everyday struggle face by the Saints of God in those pages. Jacob was a schemer, David struggled with adultery and murder, the people of Israel were constantly tempted to turn to other gods, and Jesus disciples, even though they walked and talked with Jesus himself, didn’t understand completely who he was until after his death and resurrection.

And St. Paul talks about his own struggle to do what God would have him do
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15, ESV)

Even the great evangelist struggled as we do with sin every day.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:21–24, ESV)

Paul saw that “Black Death” loomed over his life too. The world is indeed a corrupt and fallen place, filled with corrupt and fallen people.

But it wasn’t always that way. As a matter of fact, the world was once a perfect world. The human longing for a perfect world comes from a collective memory of the “good old days” when it was just that. “In the beginning” Moses wrote at God’s direction,
“God made the heavens and the earth… and it was good.”

Adam and Eve, the high point of God’s creation, lived in a perfect world, a paradise, a place that matches with the picture that “ring around the rosie” originally brought to mind. But their actions and thoughts brought it all to an end. They shattered their relationship with God. They did it by deciding that they knew better than God did what was best for them. Their sin left the whole creation in ruins, and pain and death followed in it wake.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” (Romans 5:12–14, ESV)

You see the problem with the world isn’t really that we face pain and death. The problem with the world isn’t that it’s a dangerous place to live. The problem is right here inside each of us. The problem is sin. That’s what God tells us in His Word.

But God also tells us that he has done something about the sin that resides in our hearts. He has in fact done something amazing about it. Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, left His paradise, His perfect world, to join us in ours. He became a human being and lived among us in our corrupted world. He did it to restore our world to perfection.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—” (Galatians 3:13, ESV)

It was on the tree of the cross that Jesus bore the sins of the whole world. Every evil, wicked thought in our hearts, every insult and injury we have caused someone else, every selfish thought, all our sin and all our shame were hung on him there. The “Black Death” that should have consumed us instead turned on him. He bore the awful weight of it all, and he did it for you and for me. He did it for everyone. Jesus took our sin and punishment, and we were given his perfection. Jesus took our imperfection, and we are given his holiness. Jesus took the evil that plagues us, and we are given his righteousness. Now God sees us as perfect. It isn’t because he simply forgets our sins; God requires punishment for sin. It is that God punished Jesus instead of us, and He declares us perfect. We aren’t perfect because we act perfect; we are perfect because Jesus’ perfect life is given to us. And God says it is so.

When God looks at us, he sees Jesus and declares us to be perfect and holy, just as Jesus was perfect and holy. In fact, He calls us his “holy ones.” And another word for “holy ones” is “Saints.” Sometimes we get the idea that Saints are super-heroes, and that doesn’t mean us. But God says that saints are those who have been made holy by Jesus Christ. Everyone who believes in Him is a saint. That’s both those who have gone before us and us too! That’s you saint… and saint… and saint… through faith in Jesus Christ you are all saints!

As we think about those saints who have left this imperfect world for the perfection of heaven, we know for them there is no more sin, no more suffering, or pain, or death. They are in that perfect world because of the life-giving blood of Jesus. Because they had faith in God’s promises though the death of Jesus Christ. We will follow them someday. “Black Death” still stalks us, but even though we will “all fall down,” because of Jesus we will rise again to live again in a perfect world.

Revelation chapter 21 talks about that perfect world and the new and perfect saints who will live there. It’s called an “new Eden.” A new and perfect creation for an new and perfect people. What was once lost is restored again. I want you to notice something else, in the text, I what you to notice what won’t be there.
But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:27, ESV)

But if that’s true where does that leave us imperfect people, who still struggle with sin every day? It leaves us relying on the only one who makes us holy, and sinless people by His own blood. There is no more curse for us because Jesus bore it. That means no more sin and no more death. But the text leaves its strongest words not for what won’t be there, but for what will be there.
No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Revelation 22:3–4, ESV)

God will be there.

We don’t know completely what it will be like, God hasn’t told us everything, but he has told us everything we need to know. He will be there, and He is what we need. And amazing as it sounds, we will be there too! We don’t deserve it. But we will be there because of Jesus.

There’s a comic strip by Jonny Heart called “BC.” In one of them the two women are sitting on a hillside reading the bible.

“O my goodness.” One of them says. “… says here that Jesus descended into hell!”

“Oh no, that was not to stay but just to cancel our reservations.”

Jesus came down from his perfect paradise into our sin filled, pain filled, death filled world. He even suffered hell for us on the cross when He was punished by God for our sins. He descended to hell “cancel our reservations.” He declared our victory there over death and hell. He has made reservations for you in heaven. And even those someday we will “all fall down” even though “Black Death” will come and take us, we will rise again to a new and perfect world. And we will join with all those who have gone before us. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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