A response when real life habitually lets us down.
This post was adapted from a message given by Thad Townsend,
a preacher at Grandview Christian Assembly
My Aunt Ada holds a special place in my heart. Most of my family is from Arkansas, and she grew up in the thick of the turbulent Civil Rights Movement, right before the landmark Brown versus the Board of Education case that decided against segregation. Accordingly, Aunt Ada became a resilient Southern black woman. She was one of the toughest people I’ve ever known, but at the same time, one of the most caring.
Somehow, she managed to believe in Jesus, without being dainty or soft-spoken. Aunt Ada scared good manners into me, like not addressing grown-ups by their first name. I only made the mistake of calling her “Ada” once. Of course, “Yes ma’am” and “No ma’am” were obligatory. My aunt had a son, my cousin, who grew up to be six foot eight. Thing is, down south they believe in spankings—even if you were a kid that big.
Like I said, Aunt Ada was a tough woman.
Fast forward to 2008, and my Aunt started having health issues, like needing a liver transplant. By then I was living in Columbus, so my contact with her was mainly over the phone. That’s when I told her I was bringing my fiance, Cassia, to meet her.
When we showed up, I was caught off guard, because the woman I saw there was not the same woman at all. She had lost a lot of weight, and was small, and frail. The powerful voice that I was used to hearing had shrunk to a whisper. Her kitchen was full of pill containers, medication she had to take every single day, just to stay alive.
Eventually she managed the trip to Columbus for my wedding, where she danced and was an all-around good sport. It caught me by surprise when shortly after, she passed away at only fifty-seven. It was a reminder to me of the uncertainty of life, that we live in a broken world, that we’re fragile vessels that can be broken by anything. Something always disappoints us, some injustice always bothers us. And if anything good happens, we can’t help but feel cautious about getting our hopes up and being disappointed later. We even think of those who are optimistic as naive.
Yet God has something to say to all our cynicism:
“Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered, or come into mind” (Isa. 65:17).
This is a bold claim, and something He actually began to fulfill in Christ:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
And something He completes in Revelation chapter 21:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (v. 1).
Back in Revelation chapter 20 the old creation passed away, with all its pains and troubles (v. 11). The Bible speaks of it as a dramatic event, complete with a fiery purge (2 Pet. 3:10). In its place, the new will come, not something adjusted, but the fullness of a brand new creation. Even the sea was no more—something most of us really like—but here it is taken away, because when the Bible talks about it, the sea often represents dark chaos, the abyss that acts as a dwelling place for demonic spirits (c.f. Lk. 8:31-32). This new creation is no longer affected by sin.
In verse 2, John says, “I saw the holy city New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
This city is the glorious final form of all of God’s redeemed people, and looks like a bride on her wedding day being presented to her husband. In Revelation 19:7, she was prepared, and here in these verses, she is presented. This will be the great marriage of Ephesians 5 between Christ and the church, where He has sanctified her, “having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (vv. 26-27).
This is the marriage to which every good earthly marriage points. Even the best marriage is just a dim reflection of this one. In verse 3, John says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold The dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”
The blessing of God dwelling with human beings is the big answer that we’ve all been looking for—the answer to our suffering, our disappointment, our anxiety, our tears, our pain. When the previous misery passes away with the old creation, God’s presence replaces all of it. This is the fulness of the new creation that started when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Its inauguration was on Easter, we experience it now through the power of the Holy Spirit, but here in Revelation it is fulfilled in total. “He who was Seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (v.5).
There’s no room for cynicism here. These words are coming from the One seated on the throne, so you can commit your life to them. There’s no reason to suspect disappointment, not when we have this promise on the highest authority.
Think about the old car restoration a buddy undertakes. The rest of us see his project as a battered hulk with a seized up engine. If it were ours, we’d pay someone to haul it off to a junkyard. But in the hands of that buddy, who is a gifted restorer? He sees things differently. He sees the end of the venture from the very beginning, and so the rotted tires, the smashed headlights, the grimy engine block, torn upholstery—even the old car smell—are done away with. Some master restorers in fact, even manufacture obsolete or rare parts from scratch, according to the original design.
God does that kind of work. His new creation is not a bid to promote some kind of optimistic sleight-of-hand that tells people to look away from real problems. Both now, and then, God engages difficult, concrete affairs. Just like the man with his demolished 1970 Ford Mustang, God doesn’t avoid the problematic, smashed up places, but goes to work on them with creative precision.
The end result will not only be problem-free, but if we compare our current time to that one, even our earthly comforts will look like what they were all along—mere shadows of the real joy. Nor is this something we need to wait to die in order to experience. The Bible says that we can receive a foretaste:
“However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:9-10).
And to think this all began on resurrection morning.
It’s been about a month since Easter, so by now you’ve put away all the cultural Easter stuff—the decorations, gifts, clothing—but we can never put away the newness that began when Jesus left the tomb. Neither bunnies nor colored eggs have anything to do with your current trials, but newness in Christ certainly does. You can’t afford to trust anything else. Whether financial, political, or social, all have proven to disappoint. But for those who believe in Him, there’s
And it will only grow.