Scripture: Revelation 21:10; 21:22-22:5
There is wisdom that is passed down in every family. Every family has traditions, sayings, inside jokes, or proverbs that seems to be unique to that family. Even if we do not realize it, these family quirks influence us, shape us, and teach us. I know for me and my siblings there is a prime example in that we grew up knowing to always have a Plan B. This is something we learned from our dad. Because it is how life works, things rarely go according to plan. There are always snags, bumps, wrong turns, and problems. Growing up whenever something did not quite work out the desired way my dad would always say “Time to go to plan B.” Sometimes we end up at plan “D” or “E” before it was all said and done. For example, one time when I was in middle school we got a couch. It had what, at the time was a brand new feature, of having built in recliner seats. It also had a hideaway bed, so that thing was heavy. You would think people who make couches, would know the size of a standard door frame and build their furniture accordingly. This one, of course, did not fit. My dad shrugged his shoulders and went to plan B. This was going through the larger sliding back door. However it was quickly realized that even if we got it through that door, the couch would not fit through the doorway into the room it was destined for. This led us to plan C. We took the windows out and the couch went right through that opening (which is how I learned the couch was so heavy). Growing up I learned, that if the first way does not work there is always another way to do it. I know because of this my brother, sister, and I always have a “Plan B” in mind. When things do not work out the way we had originally intended them we are all fairly quick to come up with Plan B. I think you could make a strong argument that this morning’s scripture tells us of the fulfillment of God’s plan B. This morning’s scripture in part comes from the last chapter of the last book in the bible. This was by design, because this morning’s scripture is about when God’s kingdom finally comes in all of its glory. As we consider this scripture, perhaps we can better understand our place in the heavenly kingdom.
Like last week’s scripture this morning’s scripture comes from the book of Revelation, and again scripture from this book can be tricky. For instance, we started at verse 10 to establish what was being talked about and then jumped to verse 22. What we skipped over was a detailed description of the New Jerusalem. This description is quite fanciful, such as verse 21:18 which states, “the wall was made of jasper and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass.” Again, it can be tempting to get caught up in the details and endlessly debate the merits of if this scripture is a literal description, if it is the best human attempt to describe a vision at the edge of human understanding, or if it is metaphorical to describe the theoretical beauty of a heavenly city. It is possible to get really lost in the weeds chasing those rabbit trails, and we run the risk of losing the main point of this morning’s scripture. The main point of this scripture is to describe when God’s kingdom has come. Which is this scripture is the end of the story that began in Genesis 1:1. This morning’s scripture is the fulfillment of God’s plan B that finally and forever see’s God’s desire recognized where the people are God’s people, and God is their God for all eternity.
This morning’s scripture gives a glimpse at the end, at the “happily ever after” part of the story, but to fully understand it we also need to go to the beginning. The book of Genesis states in chapter 1, verse 1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Creator God created the universe, a universe full of wonder, splendor, and majesty. Then on the sixth day, God created humanity. In the very image of God, we were created. Humanity was created to care for God’s creation and to being a loving relationship with God. In the original plan we were supposed to be God’s people, and God our God. However, if you are familiar with the Bible, you know that “Plan A” did not work out very well. In Genesis chapter 3, the first people rebel against God. God created people to have free will and gave them a choice, to obey God or not. The command recorded in Genesis was simple: Do not eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. However, the people choose to put themselves first and they choose to follow their will over God. They break the one rule God gave them. The first people essentially choose they want to be their own god, and they cease to be God’s people. Sin had entered the world, and all of creation was corrupted because of it. The way the world that was meant to be is broken, the relationship with God is fractured, and plan A is lost.
The original design of the world was a paradise where people lived in perfect relationship with God, but humanity messed that plan up. So God had a plan B, a way to restore the relationship. Plan B began with Jesus. Jesus came to earth and modeled what living righteously looked like. He also took the penalty of sin and death, so that those who believe in him will be saved. The price of sin has been paid, and those who accept this truth have their name written in the book of life. This final plan started when Jesus was born, but it does not end until this morning’s scripture. This plan is finished when the world ends, and then Creation as God intended it begins. The world described in this morning’s scripture is the way that the world was supposed to work in the beginning. Those whose name is found in the book of life, those who have accepted God as their God are the ones who live in this new world. A world without death, mourning, crying, or pain. Creation is restored, we are God’s people and God is our God. Of course the mind bending part is when we realized that God’s backup plan, was also God’s masterplan. Being all-powerful and all-knowing, God knew that the first people would choose to rebel, God knew we would continue to be stiff necked, and God knew that we could not save ourselves. Since we could not save ourselves God do the heavy lifting for us.
As I read this morning’s scripture I am especially struck by verse 22:2, “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.” The story of God’s plan begins with a tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The story begins with humanity’s sin and rebellion. The story of God’s plan is fulfilled in this morning’s scripture with another tree, the tree of life. The story of God’s plan being fulfilled comes full circle with humanity’s forgiveness and reconciliation. We find ourselves living between these two trees. We find ourselves in a space where the reality these two trees represent are both present. The word is still fallen into sin. Evil and rebellion against God is present. I do not think I have to do much to convince anyone of this. Like litter on the side of the road of smog over a polluted city, we see the dirty evidence of sin all around us. Yet that is not the entirety of the reality we experience, because redemption has also come. This morning’s scripture speaks about how in the holy city of the fully redeemed earth, there will be no need for a sun because the glory of God gives it light and Lamb is the lamp. The light of the world has already come, and the darkness shall not overcome it. Jesus has already won the victory, as our savior himself proclaims in the gospel of Mark: “The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” Forgiveness and reconciliation with our creator is already possible. We do not have to wait until the end to be God’s people. That can happen now. The kingdom of God both is and is not yet. The kingdom has come, but has not yet been full realized as described in this morning’s scripture.
We live in this in-between kingdom time, in a time between the two trees. Hopefully if you are here today, it is because you also long for the day when the reality of the second tree, of God’s kingdom is fully realized. One of the important points that I think we need to realize though is this hope is not about escaping the world. This morning’s scripture does not describe God’s escape plan for the faithful. This morning’s scripture describes Gods’ ultimate victory where all of creation is fully redeemed and restored to the way God originally intended it. Every single Sunday we collectively pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Ultimately God’s kingdom is the full restoration and redemption of creation, and this restorative work has already begun. If you follow Jesus as your savior, then your name should be in the book of life, and the full realization of the kingdom of God is your eternal future. Yet in the here and now, I think the question we should be asking ourselves is what are we doing to help make that reality a future?
We are invited by God to help make the kingdom of God a reality. We have been commissioned to proclaim the good news of redemption and forgiveness. We have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to shine the light of Christ into the darkness of this world. Whenever we act in kindness, whenever we serve the under-served, whenever we put someone else above ourselves, whenever we share the character of Jesus in either word or deed, then we help make the kingdom of God more fully realized. We are God’s people, citizens of a future eternal kingdom, and we can represent that kingdom in the world today.
This morning’s scripture describes a happily ever after where the light of Christ shines perpetually, where the nations are healed, and God will be fully present with God’s people. This morning’s scripture makes the promise that if your name is in the book of life then you have citizenship in God’s kingdom and there is a place for you in the Holy City described in this morning’s scripture. Imagine how you would life in that city, in the constant presence of our savior and our God. Imagine the joy you would feel, the peace you would exude, and the kindness with which you would treat others. We can and should live into that future reality a little bit each day. It should be our life goal to everyday take at least one small action that helps bring the reality of that kingdom one small step closer.
This morning’s scripture reveals that despite humanity’s stubbornness and selfishness, God always had a plan B to create the universe God wanted. May we anticipate that day of rejoicing when we all get to heaven, but may our faith be more than just waiting to escape this world. May we join with God in the work of restoring and redeeming the world, may we seek to do God’s will and build the kingdom of God on earth. Through our actions may our lives be a living prayer that “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”