#3 THE FINAL WORD ON COVID 20.12.2020
Revelation 21:1-8, 22:1-5
When a man was asked what was the secret to his long and happy marriage, he said that with his wife he never used the words ‘holidays’ and ‘camping’ in the same sentence.
Today is our third and last sermon in a series “The Incarnation and Covid19”. How do ‘Covid19’ and the incarnation of Jesus, his becoming man, belong in the same sentence? Most Australians say they do not. Life is all about what you see and touch … and Covid19 is just part of that physical world, and we had better just deal with it.
In a fine article Perth-based Rory Shiner wrote this week that Bible writers don’t have that view of life. They see, he says, “a kind of three-decker universe. Heaven (the top layer) is God’s space, where God (in one sense) “is”. It’s where angels are. It’s the place from where God rules. Earth, the second layer, is our home. The first human’s name, Adam, means “the dust man” or “the earthling”. Humans are not wayward angels, lost aliens or eternal souls temporarily encased in meat-suits. We are earthlings. We’re from around here. Finally, at the third layer, you have the underworld … “Sheol”, “Hades”, “the place of the dead”, or simply “below the earth” … God’s place, our place, and the place of the dead.”
Legion was the man possessed by demons. Underworld beings have made their way into our world in a “a breach at the border in our three-decked universe.” When Jesus sends the demons into pigs, and into the lake, it’s as though the water is a pore through which the spirits return to the underworld from which they had escaped.
In modern Australia, there is nothing up there except sky, and there’s nothing down there except dirt. Life is about food and money and sex and stuff, and yes, Covid19 which we can see under a microscope, and feel in our bodies.
What do we do with it? Control it – physically distance, wash hands … and ultimately find a vaccine for it. End of story.
What if we don’t control it? What if it kills someone we love? What if our kids are afraid because of the constant talk about it? What about the anguish of not being able to feed your family because you’ve lost your business or your job? What if it undoes us, and we realise there is so much more to life than what we can touch and see?
On Tuesday I had lunch with a man who last week tried to kill himself. He is wealthy and his life is full of stuff you can touch and see. But his drunken bouts had worsened since his wife and three young children had cleared out, and his sense of despair and failure and emptiness had simply become too much.
Had said that the one thing that stopped him taking his life was that he was worried there might be a layer below – that hell might be more real than anything here.
How about the question as to whether there another layer up there? A layer that changes everything in this layer?
Three weeks back we read in Hebrews 2:14,15 that Jesus came from the world up there, took on our flesh and blood and died our kind of death, that “he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil … and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
His becoming man – to die – meant the death of death, and the death of the fear of death. Whether it is a Covid death or any other kind and it meant the destruction of the power of the devil.
Yes, Covid19 and incarnation belong in the same sentence. In the same way that suicide and incarnation do.
Last week we moved on to Hebrews 4:14-16 and saw how, with our nature still, Jesus the earthman, “sympathises with our weaknesses”. He knows what we need in this fallen Covid world and matches his grace and mercy to that need.
In his incarnation, Jesus died to kill the fear of death. As the incarnate Son of God, right now, he gives grace for life now and he has a future for us. He told us about it this morning in Revelation 21 and 22. It is the future of what he calls “a new heaven and a new earth”.
I’d love to spend hours on Jesus’ description of this new world that is coming, but instead, pick up just a few aspects with me …
>>> It is physically real.
We may be very sure that It’s not a wispy, cloudy kind of world that is coming because of the incarnation of Jesus. He took on a body. That’s the body that rose from the dead. It was so changed that after the resurrection, it could materialise in a locked room. It is still a body that can be touched and can swallow food.
When he comes to the new heaven and the new earth, he will be there bodily. “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.” (21:3). He will be there bodily, and so shall we.
Our bodies will be transformed, but they will still be part of who we are. We don’t get rid of them as though they are something second rate or evil … any more than God removes al tree and animals in the new heaven and the new earth.
The world to come is more physically real than anything in this present world.
>>> It is the answer to every promise.
These chapters sound like a cross between the Garden of Eden and the promised land of Canaan and the city of Jerusalem and the throne of David. Not because all those things are there, but because Jesus uses familiar pictures to show us something we have never seen.
How do you describe a pineapple to an eskimo who has only ever lived in the Artic tundra? Maybe the best you can do is to say it is like sweet, soft whale blubber. Thus, the temple and the city and Eden are the best pictures for people who have never been in that world.
When the real things are here, the pointers have all done their job. We’re not going back there! The coming world is so different from this present world, that the things we all thought were valuable here – like gold – will there be used for bitumen to walk on (21:21).
It is the physically real … it is the answer to every promise.
>>> It is inevitable.
When Jesus came to this world it was to do far more than redeem people so we get to be in a personal relationship with God. As vital as that is, his goal was always much bigger than that.
God’s plan “for the fulness of time was to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). Jesus was coming to undo all the damage that Adam had done, and we have done ever since, and to restore it to it designed beauty.
To do that, he had to destroy Satan’s power, which he has done. He had to redeem his bride which he has done. The day is almost here when as Reigning Lord of all, he will put planets back into their right orbit, make bodies whole and eradicate all viruses so that there shall be no “mourning, or crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (21:5)
It was always part of his plan to put funeral directors, grave-diggers, police, locksmiths and health workers out of work in order to regain what Adam lost – and win even more so that the new heaven and the earth will be more glorious than Eden ever was.
How could life in that world ever be boring or tedious? How could you not thrive, thrill and celebrate, when every gene in your body is renewed, every thought perfected, every good interest and talent made full and every pain and every frustration and every unworthy desire and thought eradicated?
Forever, or just until another snake comes, and there is another fall, and it starts all over again. The devil and his angels have been destroyed (back in chapter 20), and in this new world the saints of God “will reign forever and ever” (22:5).
To put it all together:
*** The layer up there has come into this world, at the incarnation.
*** The world below was defeated by the incarnate Son, in his dying.
*** While we live in this world, the incarnate Son is one with us.
*** One day soon, the world up there will be united forever with this world, and everything will be made new to the glory of Jesus.
This is why churches like ours are essential in a Covid world. Governments may rank us as not-essential” (unlike media outlets and bottle shops) but we have the privilege of saying “there is another world” in a world which has no real hope.
No one else can help people to look outside of this world, or deal with fear of death, or give deep hope in a Covid- or a suicidal-world, or hold out the prospect of another world which frees us from having to cling to this one which is passing away.
2 questions to finish off:
If you are going to demolish your house, and build a new one, you don’t spend time and money on the old one. Should we walk away from this world, and focus only on the one this is coming?
No one is going to demolish this world. God is going to radically renew this world, but it is still this world , transformed, that will be. Just as Jesus’ resurrection body was a transformation of the one he had before. Just as your resurrection body will be the body you have now, but also transformed.
We don’t walk out on a world passing away but we do as much as we can to make it like the one that is coming.
Peter wrote to people who were facing being wiped out. He says in 1 Peter 4:7 “The end of all things is at hand. Therefore …”.
“Therefore” what? Give up and walk away? Stop trying to find a Covid vaccine – stop your daily work? Spend all your savings on a party? Make yourself safe and the rest of the world go to hell in a hand basket?
No. “The end of all things is at hand. Therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly … show hospitality without grumbling … as each has received a gift, us it to serve one another … in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:7-11)
The bottom line of life in the new heaven and the new earth is serving and worshipping the Lamb. What is life about here and now? Serving and worshipping the Lamb. How? By living his way and for him now … loving forgivingly, serving deeply, evangelising seriously, working hard and being for Jesus now, while there is still time for all of that in this present world.
Preachers say you can have it all now – health, wealth and happiness. You can’t. Politicians like Donald Trump believe they can deliver it all now. They can’t.
This new world does not come until Jesus returns with his church, his bride, and set up life with her in a world that is just right for redeemed people. A world that is bigger and better than the world that Adam lost for us.
When that world comes, what a world it will be:
“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.” (22:3).
Can you keep going in a Covid-world, a world of death until that world comes without demanding or even expecting that God will start it off for you before then? You could, couldn’t you, if I told you it was coming next week, or next month? Sure. When what is coming is so sure and so indescribably wonderful, of course.
There is a world below – it has been defeated. There is a world above – it has been here and soon these worlds will merge in a cosmic renewal, and we shall be in the presence of Jesus forever…and ever, and ever.
My suicidal friend discovered that there isn’t enough in this world, or inside him, to answer to the eternity in his heart. If some preacher told him the answer is simply to try harder, be kinder, fix addictions he’d have picked him as the crook he is.
It’s all about Jesus. It’s always been about Jesus:
The more I see of him and his work, the more I want to fall in love Jesus all over again … and live for him with joy and confidence in a world of Covid. Don’t you?
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