Rev 21:1-3, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” The Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos saw something he had never seen, something he really did not know what he was seeing, but he saw it. We each see as we understand and we relate what we have seen in terms we know. It is true for John and it is true for you and for me.
Tonight when I went to bed I thought about what I had been watching on TV and it included the movie Star Trek and Thor. Now Star Trek is a 50 year old franchise of science fiction and in it man goes where he has not gone before, strange new worlds, and he goes boldly. But the key word here is fiction. It is man’s concept of that which does not exist. From a logical perspective it all could be; the science of warp speed, transporters, strange new worlds and other civilizations make sense. From a pure astronomical point of view we know there are billions of galaxies and billions of stars within each of those galaxies and that there must be billions of planets in each one so therefore there should be billions of other worlds complete with beings and some of them must be older than us and some must also be younger, some more advanced and some not as advanced as we are. Makes sense to me and a lot of people think so. But the bottom line is we don’t know. What we do know is what we know and for each of us that is contained in our history.
Now one thing we do know and that is recorded in history is that there was a man named Jesus Christ. He was born, he lived and he died. We have records of his life and records of how he died, actually how he was murdered. And these records say He claimed to be God’s own son, to be God Himself come down from someplace called heaven. The records also record things that do not fit our understanding, Star Trek like things. But how do these records get recorded? Let’s consider the apostle John in the Book of Revelation, a book that is actually titled “the Revelation of Jesus Christ.”
John had been sent to a Roman penal colony on the Isle of Patmos because he would not worship the pagan Roman leaders. This is because he, John, had met and knew that this man Jesus really was all He claimed to be, God come down to be a man like us. When you know the truth you have to stand on it. When you know God, when He has come into your life He changes you and transforms you as nothing else can.
So I am in bed trying to get my mind to be quiet and to drift off to sleep and to start to dream. And Star Trek and other things want to play around in my mind and I am trying to tell my mind to think about real things, the things of God that I know are true and real, not this sci-fi make believe world. And this gets me to thinking about this time of year, Christmas time. Thinking about how this Christmas has been and why and what does it mean. this Christmas season has been a hard one on me for a lot of reasons.
Christmas is always a difficult time for me. It is both a very good time and a very bad time, very hard emotionally. And it takes me for an emotional roller coaster ride which includes dreams and sleeping. So I am trying to go to sleep tonight and I am trying to get a handle on reality and not some sci-fi nonsense and John on Patmos comes to mind. Let’s take a look. John saw a new heaven and a new earth and he wrote about it. But he can only write in terms and words he knows and understands the same as you and I. In a spiritual sense I have been to heaven a few times, caught up in the spirit as the Apostle Paul says. So what did it look like? I was in the great throne room of God Himself and the only words I can use to describe it come from the wizard of OZ because that is an image I can get a handle on. But it wasn’t like that throne room; it was different, more glorious, more beyond description. In H. G Wells “The War of the Worlds” the author describes these marching machines that are attacking the earth and they sound a whole lot like water towers that are walking and moving. Again, I propose that H. G. Wells is relating what he cannot accurately describe in terms he can describe.
I submit to you that the reality is so much greater than we can not only imagine but conceive of or dream. On Christmas Day, 2009, we took my wife to the hospital due to complications with cancer. Lab tests confirmed her kidneys had shut down and she was in renal failure. That is a nice clinical term for she was dying. We transferred her to the hospice facility where on December 29th she did indeed die. In these situations people who are going through it go into emotional overload. During it your thought processes are numb but on the other side disbelief takes over. This Christmas season a good friend lost his sister and another dear friend lost his father. Christmas day I met a lady who lost her son a few months ago to a hit and run driver. I was visiting a neighbor who had a friend over who lost her husband a couple of months ago. Each of these individuals is grappling with what is real and what is not and is grappling with how to deal with it.
So let’s take a look at what Christmas means and let’s start with the opening announcement that something special has happened. So it begins with Mary giving birth to the baby Jesus in a stable. Consider the story in Luke, chapter 2, where there are shepherds watching their flocks at night, just minding their business when very Star Trek like an angel appears (complete in glory) and scares the you know what out of them. This stuff just does not happen and this record of it is written down by a doctor no less. And the angel says, first of all, don’t be afraid (even though you have every right to be) because I come and bring good news not just for you but for everyone on earth. Cool, this has got to be good, really something out of this world. So here it is, the Savior of the world is born. Okay, sounds good so far. Go and you will find Him in a manger (feeding trough) in a stable (where animals are kept) and oh, did I mention He is a baby? Now the angel is surrounded all of a sudden by a large number of heavenly hosts who are all singing praises for this infant child in a stable and then all of them just sort of Star Trek like transport back to heaven. And you, being one of the shepherds left standing wondering what just happened because it is totally outside of any frame of reference you have go down to the town and guess what? There is a stable and in it is a manger where a baby lays, a newborn. The story that should not make sense is actually true. Quit having jalapeno’s for a late night snack, okay guys. What really happened with the angel and the heavenly hosts? We don’t know but we know that the shepherds expressed it in terms they understood and they expressed what really did happen and Israel doesn’t have jalapeno’s so that isn’t what caused it .
I know the pain of people dying and it hurts. But there are different depths of that pain. I have had friends and family die and some of it has affected me more deeply than others. On Christmas Eve, 1970, I was involved in a friendly fire incident in Vietnam where 12 GI’s died. 12 men who were counting on us to support them and we failed. God, that left scars that still sear with pain even over 40 years later. There has been much healing but the pain can never go away. When my wife died I never knew there could be so much pain. My heart and mind and very soul were ripped apart. There has also been much healing of that. But what is the greater perspective of it all?
The greater perspective is that there is something more, something beyond all that we know and understand and we have had a taste of it and we can taste of it and know that it is so. There is a heaven, a real place where people can go when they die. There is a God, someone beyond our comprehension, who is and was and will be to come. One of my spiritual “visits” to heaven is tied into my wife Deborah. After she died, and I was totally consumed with grief and anguish and pain I finally started to get out of my shell. I worked a Kairos weekend in prison. This is a ministry where the team of volunteers goes into a prison to bring the love of Jesus to the inmates, and it is good. So I was on the back table during a time of singing when they sang a song I don’t recall ever hearing. The song is called “I can only Imagine” written by the group Mercy Me (Bart Millard). And as we were standing there singing I was taken up in the spirit to heaven and I found myself in the great throne room of God. It was full of people and it reminded me of the throne room from the Wizard of OZ (remember that we have to fit things in our understanding). Well, my wife Deborah greeted me and she had the biggest, most beautiful smile on her. And she takes me by the hand and leads me to a different part of the throne room. She takes me up to Jesus and introduces me to Him. That is the part that told me what was happening was real. It was not about seeing Deborah, that was so wonderful in itself and oh yes, I missed her so much, it was about Jesus. This vision, this other worldliness was so much more than I could have ever imagined or come up with for an image to heal my grief and pain. And it was not about me, it was about something greater, Jesus, God Himself.
I can now think of those shepherds guarding their flocks and having the night invaded by heavenly beings, angelic hosts, proclaiming there is so much more. I can picture John on Patmos at a ripe old age, at the end of a human existence, one who has seen and witnessed so much that is beyond comprehension. He witnessed life before Christ, before Jesus came as a babe born in a manger, having witnessed the life of Christ and the death of the Savior. John, who had witnessed and had seen all the pieces fit together who was now exiled and alone on this rock in the middle of the ocean, a man waiting to die and to go home.
So John is there and God gives him more. “And I saw….” is such power, power you and I cannot question or call to account. John saw that there is more than can be seen by us, by rational people and that it is for us to see for ourselves. John goes on and tells us more of his vision and yet just a chapter later in the Book of Revelation, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, he finishes and simply says, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Such completeness can only come in such simplicity, Amen, Come, Lord Jesus.
Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Thor, and all the other phony worlds we make believe are not just fiction, they are such a weak and far cry from reality that it is unreal. When Jesus comes back we shall know the greater. We shall see and know that we are so much less while at the same time being of so much more worth that anything we can dream of and conceive of. We are God’s chosen, His holy people, called by God Himself to know Him, to walk with Him, in perfect love.
My prayer is that I might love with as much of His love as is possible for this frail, fragile human form. My prayer and heart’s desire is that I might share some of the knowledge that He is, He was, and He will be to come. He is here now, He lives in me and I pray you seek Him to know Him yourself, personally. He is there, and He beckons you, even you to so much more. Amen, come Lord Jesus.