Posted by: Philip Rushton | March 3, 2014

From The Chopping Block

Since we had such a full service yesterday I ended up having to cut out a lot of things from the sermon during our first service. This actually came in handy, as I started to lose my voice when it was time for communion!

I probably could have preached a whole series on Revelation 21-22. So here are a few quotes and insights from the chopping block.

The main emphasis I tried to focus on yesterday is that our vision of the future shapes how we live in the present. We see this on a lot of fronts. Our goals for our retirement motivate us to make sacrifices and save money in the present. The dream of winning an olympic medal gets an athlete up at 4 am to go to the skate rink. The dream of having a particular job motivates us to take out loans, live in cheap apartments, and endure years of schooling.

The same thing is at work in our spiritual journey. Our vision of where God is leading us can motivate us to live sacrificially for him in the present and resist the temptation to simply give in to the world.

One of the things I wanted to reflect on was how this vision of the New Jerusalem is a powerful replacement for our worldly idols. We cannot simply resist idolatry, or remove our idols. Instead we need a replacement for them. We all have a longing in our heart for something beyond ourselves. Idolatry is caused by us trying to meet those needs with unworthy things. We turn to money, sex, status, or power to fill our human longings and they come up short. A spiritual vision actually fulfills those longings; thereby, replacing our need for worldly idols.

Timothy Keller writes:

“Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. That is what will replace your counterfeit gods. If you uproot the idol and fail to “plant” the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.” (Counterfeit Gods, 172)

In the 2nd service I told the story about a friend of mine who works with a ministry that helps inner-city kids get away from drugs. What they have discovered is that these kids need an alternative reality. As kids find purpose in sports, ministry, and a loving community, they are less likely to turn to drugs. In a similar way, God’s purpose for our life is a powerful alternative to the destructive things we turn to.

Rev 21-22 also gives us a more holistic vision of what God is up to. As I noted in the sermon, eternity is going to look a lot more earthy then we usually think. Eternity unfolds on a new earth in a redeemed city. It is a place where we will live as God originally intended when he declared his creation good. This will be a place where we will have meaningful work to do as we reign alongside God (Rev 22:5). It will be a place where all peoples will be reconciled to each other. It will be place where there will be no more pain, and chaos. It will be a place where there will be ample provision for all.

Keller applies this aspect of Rev 21-22 in this way:

“Rev 21-22 makes it clear that the ultimate purpose of redemption is not to escape the material world, but to renew it. God’s purpose is not only saving individuals, but also inaugurating a new world based on justice, peace, and love, not power, strife, and selfishness.”

This, I believe, gives us great purpose as a church. It expands our vision. Our role is not simply to hand out tickets to heaven, but to give the world a glimpse of what new creation looks like. N.T. Wright says that our acts of charity, creativity, and love function like sign-posts to our broken world about where God is leading us.

This has the power to mobilize the whole church for God’s kingdom purposes. It means that God can use more than the 10% of us who have the gift of evangelism. It means that we can point people to God by loving our co-workers or neighbors sacrificially, restoring broken relationships, working toward the good in our community, and providing resources for the poor.

Lastly, the vision in Revelation is something we can already start to participate in now. N.T. Wright has this to say:

“Nothing in the vision is merely future. Because the central reality of God’s future is Jesus himself, and because Jesus is not merely a future reality but the one who lived and died and rose again and even now reigns in glory and holds the seven stars in his hand, the reality of the new city, though still a matter of hope, is something to be glimpsed in the present, especially in the ways sketched throughout this book: worship and witness. The new city is not just a dream, a comforting future fantasy. Those who follow lamb already belong to that city, and already have the right to walk its streets.”

These insights prevent our conversations about eternity leading us to a place of apathy. It no longer makes sense to say, “I have my ticket to heaven, so why put in any effort.” This perspective misses the point. If the vision of the future helps us overcome idolatry, gives us purpose, and is something we can start to experience in the present, then it is something worth living for now!

Dallas Willard says it well:

“But, someone will say, can I not be “saved” – that is, get into heaven when I die – without any of this? Perhaps you can. God’s goodness is so great . . . But you might wish to think about what your life amounts to before you die, about what kind of person you are becoming, and about whether you really would be comfortable for eternity in the presence of One whose company you have not found especially desirable for the few hours and days of your earthly existence. And He is, after all, One who says to you now, ‘Follow me!’”

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Responses

  1. Sorry I missed hearing your good message yesterday. I’m glad to read this perspective, and if all you could have said was this message, it would have been ‘dayenu’ … enough.

  2. Not sure what Dallas Willard was trying to say, but I just want to reiterate what scripture tells us, in that there is no way to the Father except through Jesus. God’s goodness is great, however, some people will choose to go to hell because they don’t want to choose God over their idols.

    • Hi Tracee,

      Thanks for commenting on the blog. I think Willard is responding to the person who says that since we are saved by grace then there is no point to growing spiritually, or following Jesus in the present. It is similar to Paul’s conversation in Romans when he asks,”shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Willard (and Paul for that matter), argue that this type of perspective misses the point entirely. Yes, we are saved by grace. Yes, we cannot earn our way to heaven by good works. But to use this truth to excuse ourselves from following Jesus means we haven’t fully grasped the good news. We have the opportunity to live in relationship with God now. He hasn’t just saved us from something – he has saved us too something. We can start to experience transformation and growth in the present. As Dietrich Bonehoffer says, Jesus offers us grace, but it is not cheap grace, it is costly grace. When we really grasp it, it inspires us to give our lives to God!


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