Sunday, April 28, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
When God’s Story Intersects Yours
Part 9—The End of the Story
ILL: Paul Wulff, one-time football coach at EWU and WSU told me about playing in his first preseason game for the New York Jets. He went in for his first play ever, as a long snapper on a field goal. Reggie White (a strong believer known as the Minister of Defense) and two other All-Pro’s lined up opposite him. Reggie asked, “Do you believe in Jesus?” Paul didn’t know what to say. Reggie asked again, “Do you believe in Jesus?” More silence. Then just before the snap Reggie said, “Here He comes.”
Today is the end of the story. Do you believe in Jesus? Are you ready? Because here He comes!
Video: Rebecca’s story
Introduction and offering:
Thanks Rebecca for sharing your story with us. I love the variety in our stories. Rebecca was wearing herself out being good! There are lots of ways to be lost and far from God. In the story of the Prodigal Son, the younger son ran away to a distant country and got in deep trouble—he was lost in a distant country, doing bad. The older son stayed home and served his father, but he did it with a resentful heart—he was lost at home, doing good. You can be bad and lost; you can be good and lost too. Rebecca was a good person who discovered that none of us is good enough on our own. We need God. Thanks Rebecca for sharing your story. It inspires me to keep helping people find and follow Jesus!
This is the final talk in this series. We’ve been telling the Story of God and us as it is told in the Bible.
The Big Idea: The Bible is the story of God and us. When God’s story intersects yours, you begin to live a new story.
When you begin to follow Jesus, you start living in God’s Big Story, and God lives in your story. God’s story is that He is redeeming a broken world. He is reconciling us back to Himself. On your outline you’ll see this timeline of the Story of God and us.
The Old Testament The New Testament
Creation/fall Abraham Moses David Jesus Peter Paul Us Re-creation
As you can see, the story comes full circle.
It starts with God creating a good world, and it ends with God recreating a good world.
It starts with humans living in God’s presence and it ends with us living in God’s presence.
It starts with us ruling with God over the earth and it ends with us reigning with Christ.
It starts with paradise and ends with paradise.
The story comes full circle. What was lost is recovered. What was broken is healed.
This last talk is different than all the others. In them, I could tell the stories of past and present. But this talk is the story of the future, and that’s different. There’s a lot we don’t know about the future! We know that God’s Big Story comes full circle, but I don’t pretend to know how it all happens.
ILL: There have always been people who have tried to explain how it is all going to happen: when Jesus will come back, how current events are fulfillment of ancient prophecies—stuff like that. My first bishop, who sent me here, believed that Jesus would return before 1988. He was wrong. Others have predicted that the beast in Revelation was a computer in Denmark, or that the antichrist was King Juan Carlos of Spain or President Obama. They were wrong. In fact, the one thing that all of these prognosticators have in common: they’ve all been wrong.
So, I’m going to stick with what is really clear, what I think we can know. You’ll have to ask someone else about all the details.
1. How does the story end?
The book of Revelation is an example of apocalyptic literature, a genre of literature that was very popular in the two centuries before Christ and the two centuries after, much like romance novels are popular now. The word “apocalyptic” comes from a Greek word that means, “to reveal.” An apocalypse reveals God’s plans for history and his triumph at the end of history. Apocalyptic literature is highly symbolic, using extravagant language and images, and focusing on dreams and visions. But behind all the symbolism was a very clear message: God wins. We’re going to read some passages from the end of Revelation; don’t be detoured by some of the language and images. Get the big idea: God wins!
That in a nutshell is the message of the book of Revelation. The apostle John wrote it near the end of the first century, when Christians were facing persecution. John himself had been exiled to the island of Patmos. There, he received this vision from God—a vision that involved a great spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil, God and Satan. In the climactic battle in Revelation 19-20, Jesus wins.
Revelation 19:19–21 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. (So, they are toast—literally!) 21 The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.
With all the forces of evil arrayed against Him, Jesus conquers them “with the sword that came out of His mouth”. He speaks and the battle is over! Jesus wins!
Revelation 20-21 goes on to tell the end of the story of the triumph of God. Here are three things that are clear—and wonderful.
A. The end of evil.
It is the end of evil. In Revelation 20, Satan is doomed. Evil is judged. Death and Hades are destroyed.
Remember at the start of the story, God created a good world. But the tempter came to Adam and Eve and deceived them. This tempter convinced them to rebel against God, to try to become gods themselves. It was the beginning of evil in an otherwise perfect world. From that time on, the tempter has continued to deceive human beings and foster human rebellion and encourage evil. We are in a spiritual battle. But that battle will end one day with the tempter’s destruction.
Revelation 20:10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
He’s toast too. It’s the end of evil.
ILL: Martin Luther wrote the great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” The hymn is about this spiritual battle we’re in, and the end of it. In verse 3, he wrote,
“The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure;
One little word will fell him.”
His doom is sure. Remember, John was writing Revelation to people who were being persecuted and killed. “Don’t be afraid. Jesus wins! We can endure the devil’s rage, because his doom is sure!”
It is the end of evil. The devil is doomed, and evil is judged.
Revelation 20:11–15 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
What is clear? There is a final judgment. Everyone will face it and will be judged according to what they’ve done—evil will be judged. Why was this so important? Sometimes it seems like evil is winning. It did to the Christians of John’s day; it does in our day too.
ILL: What was your response to the Boston Marathon bombings? How could anyone do that? It’s just evil.
I’m listening to a book right now that describes racism in South Africa in the mid-1900’s. It’s awful. I cringe and think, “How could anyone do that? How could anyone be that cruel and hateful?” It’s just evil.
But the day is coming when all evil will be judged and ended forever. All wrongs will be put right.
And even death and Hades will be destroyed. It will be the end of evil and the death of death!
It’s not only an end, but a beginning.
B. The beginning of a new heavens and earth.
John describes the recreation of the world. The language is symbolic, but clear.
Revelation 21:1–5 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. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 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.”
5 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.”
“I am making everything new!” God recreates the heavens and the earth. Everything damaged by our rebellion is recreated. Just as creation was originally perfect, with no evil, so the new heavens and earth will be perfect, the home of righteousness.
2 Peter 3:13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
In this new creation, God will wipe every tear from our eyes. Don’t you love that image? It will be the end of sorrow. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.
It’s the end of evil, the beginning of a new creation, and…
C. Forever we will be with the Lord.
Let’s read again:
Revelation 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
In my opinion, this is what makes heaven, heaven. Heaven is living in the presence of God. John repeats this idea at the end of his description of the new creation.
Revelation 22:3–5 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. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 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.
We will see His face. We will live with Him and He with us…forever.
1 Thessalonians 4:17 And so we will be with the Lord forever.
One more thing: notice that John says, “And they will reign forever and ever.” Who is “they”? It is us! “They will see His face. They will not need the light of a lamp…They will reign forever.”
We were created to reign over God’s creation, to be God’s co-rulers and exercise His authority over the world. This too is restored in the new creation, where we will reign with Christ. This is taught in other places in the NT.
2 Timothy 2:12 if we endure, we will also reign with him.
Revelation 5:10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
We will reign with Jesus. What does this mean? I don’t know. But I do know this. We won’t be floating around on clouds, playing “Amazing Grace” on harps. We won’t be sitting in our heavenly mansions, eating fruitcake and watching soap operas! We’ll be reigning with Christ. We’ll be busy. We’ll be doing what we were originally made to do. Heaven won’t be boring; it will be fulfilling. You’ll not only be at home with the Lord, but at peace with yourself. “This is what I was made for! Now it all makes sense.” You will be your best self, doing the thing God made you to do.
How does the story end? Jesus returns and He wins. It is the end of evil, and the beginning of a new creation, where we’ll be reigning with the Lord forever! God redeems, reconciles and renews everything we ever ruined!
As I said earlier, there is and always has been a lot of speculation and guesswork when it comes to Revelation and the end of the world. How will it all happen? Many people have created charts and diagrams. Others have tried to pinpoint the time, identify the antichrist, or match prophecies to current events. It’s all a lot of guesswork. But there are some things that are crystal clear, that are repeated over and over. And you can be sure of these.
2. What we can know for sure.
I like to tell people that there are only three things you really need to know about the end of the world.
A. Jesus is coming.
Jesus repeatedly told His disciples that He would come again.
John 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
“I will come back.” That was His promise. When He ascended to heaven, an angel said to his disciples:
Acts 1:11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Jesus will come back. Jesus’ followers believed this and expected it to happen. Paul wrote:
1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.
Jesus will come back. The Christians who have died will come with Him. Both those who have died and those who are alive will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air, and be with Him forever!
I don’t know about the rapture (a term not in the Bible). I don’t know about the millennium (a term that is in the Bible). I don’t know about the tribulation. I’m not pre-trib, post-trib or a-trib. I am pan-trib. I believe it will all pan out in the end. There is a lot I don’t know. But here is what I do know: Jesus is coming back. And when He returns, that’s it. That’s the end—the end of evil, and the beginning of the new creation.
I know Jesus is coming.
B. No one knows when.
Jesus made this perfectly clear—so clear that it baffles me why so many people still try to pick the date!
Matthew 24:36–44 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Notice how clear this is.
V. 36 “No one knows about that day or hour.” For emphasis, Jesus adds, “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Why would you try to guess the day or hour when Jesus said no one knows, not even Him. Are you trying to be smarter than Jesus?
V. 42 “Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” You don’t know! Then Jesus uses the illustration of a thief. If you knew that a thief was coming, you’d be cocked, locked and ready to rock! You’d be ready so you weren’t caught by surprise!
V. 44 “The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.” This is why I don’t think anyone will ever pick the right day or hour. Jesus will come when we don’t expect Him.
No one knows when.
ILL: Lots of you might remember when Harold Camping predicted Christ’s return on May 21, 2011. It made national news—and it made Christian faith, particularly in Christ’s return—look like a joke.
But this isn’t the first time. I found a website that documented at least 242 specific predictions for the date of Jesus’ return! They all have one thing in common: they’ve all been wrong.
I know Jesus is coming. I know no one knows when. And I know…
C. You better be ready!
Jesus also made this clear.
Matthew 12:44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Jesus is coming, you don’t know when, so be ready.
ILL: You all know the difference between the mid-term exam that you knew was coming, and the pop quiz that you didn’t. You could study for the mid-term. But for the pop-quiz, you had to stay prepared.
That’s the idea here. Since we don’t know when Jesus is coming, we just have to stay prepared. Always be ready.
Mark 13:33–37 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”
Be on guard. Be alert. Watch. Be ready.
ILL: When my boys were little, I coached their baseball teams. One of the basics was “ready position”. I’d look out in the field and see these little guys with their legs crossed, or looking backwards, or lying on the grass looking at dandelions, or staring up at the sky. I’d yell, “Ready position.” They didn’t know if the ball was coming their way, and if it did, they needed to be ready.
You need to be ready.
I know Jesus is coming. I know that no one knows when. I know that I better be ready! One last story…take a look at this.
Video: Tryston’s story.
Thank you Tryston for your story. What a great way to end this series and all our stories. Tryston said it simply and said it best: “I love the Lord.” That’s ready position. I love Jesus. I belong to Jesus. “Yes Lord, to anything, anytime, anywhere.”
Are you ready?
Have your ever read one of those “Choose your own ending” books? Here’s the deal. You can’t choose the ending to God’s Story—He has already done that. But you can pick the ending to yours! You can choose to say Yes to Jesus and follow Him, and your story will become part of God’s story. Or you can say no to Jesus and you’re on your own—and the ending isn’t so wonderful.
Are you ready? Are you ready to say yes to Jesus and join God’s Big Story?