The Heavenly City

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. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘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.” 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.” –Revelation 21:1-5

Injustice. Disappointments. Shattered dreams. Sickness. Sorrows. Death. Broken relationships. Evil. Darkness. Grief.

Life on earth can be very hard. The older I get, the deeper the sorrow and pain in the world I not only see but even experience personally. And my life in America has been relatively easy compared to the suffering many in other parts of the world endure. And yet…there seems to continually be those moments in life when you realize anew the reality that paradise truly has been lost. We live in a broken, fallen, sinful world. A world in which evil is real, injustice happens daily and things are not as they ought to be…or even once were.

Even nature itself gets this: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly…” (Romans 8:22-23).

And yet, there are also moments of stunning beauty, glimpses of God’s glory, moments of sheer goodness and glorious bliss. And these moments, are not merely moments of what once used to be but is forever lost; they are whispers of what one day will be a reality once again! In fact, it is this for which we long and sigh for: Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:23-25).

When troubles come, when life is full of heartache and pain, it serves to remind us this earth is not our true home. It “jolts” us out of becoming too comfortable or attached to this world or present life. And it can cause the longing for our true and eternal home to grow stronger within us:  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-21).

We are just pilgrims passing through. In the great faith chapter of Hebrews 11, example after example is given of those who lived by faith. By their faith they accomplished some amazing things. And yet verses 13-16 tells us of another truth that was also common to each of their experiences: “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Deep inside we all long for paradise. Our hearts yearn for endless beauty and perfect health, peace, prosperity and long life. We go on vacations if for even only a moment the world might be all that we know it was supposed to be. And yet…it cannot be fully grasped or maintained on this present earth. Therefore, it is to the “New Jerusalem” that comes down out of heaven from God and a “new heaven” and “new earth” and “new body” that we must look to and long for. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. (Hebrews 11:16).

Life on earth for the people of God, is preparation for life with God in eternity. We are pilgrims just passing through. We do not belong here…and pain, suffering, sorrow and death remind us of that reality. We must prepare our hearts for our true eternal dwelling place; with God in the city that he is preparing for us.

But as we prepare our hearts to live with God and he to dwell with us let us bring with us as many others that will join us on the path that is narrow but leads to true life and the heavenly city (Matthew 7:14). Let us call out and warn as many that will listen to leave the path of destruction and the road that is wide but leads to hell (Matthew 7:13). Let us populate heaven and snatch as many others from the fire by the witness of our lives and sharing of the hope of the Gospel! How we ought to shudder to think that so many are plunging towards an eternity separated from the presence, glory, goodness and beauty of God! If his presence equates to “fullness of joy and eternal pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11) than the absence of his presence speaks of the exact opposite reality. Hell is where men and women are shut out forever from the presence of God (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10). All that is good comes from God, so where God is not, neither is anything good. A rejection of God is a rejection of all that is truly good in this life or eternity! (James 1:17). How we need to be awakened to eternal realities and live our lives in light of eternity, doing all we can to persuade others, that some might be saved! (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).

But some may ask, if God is truly good why is there pain and suffering in this world? Why doesn’t God intervene and stop every injustice?

One reason is because of free will. To be truly free (and therefore to truly be human and to love) requires the ability to make choices. Some of those choices are what the bible calls sin (choices made that do not reflect the glory or character of God). Sin is what separates us from God and has consequences not only in our lives, but the lives of others, especially those closest to us (Romans 3:23, Genesis 3). If God were to stop every injustice would man truly have free will? This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t reason with man and warn man before evil deeds are performed (Genesis 4). And it doesn’t mean he is not right there with and for the victims of injustice to bring about justice on their behalf (Psalm 103:6). He is after all “Immanuel” God with us! And one day, Jesus will return to rule and to reign and to right every wrong! (Luke 18:1-8). He will personally, “wipe every tear from their eyes” and make all things new (Revelation 21:4). It is for that day that our hearts yearn. It is for that place, the heavenly city, we must fix our eyes (Colossians 3:1-3). And it is for him, Jesus himself, which we cry out: Come Lord Jesus come! (Revelation 22:17,20)!

So whether you are in a season that is pleasurable or painful let it point you to the Heavenly City. When life is pleasurable it is but a glimmer and glimpse of what will one day be an eternal reality in his presence. And when life is painful, it is but fleeting and temporary, a reminder that this world is not our true home. We are just pilgrims passing through; pilgrims longing for a better country, a city not built by man, but whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10)!

“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. 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.” (Revelation 22:1-5).

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