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Holy Baptism: Christ the Husband

The Fifth Sunday of Easter, 15 May 2022

A Sermon on Revelation 21:1-7 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS

Revelation 21:1-7 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

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. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 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. 4 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.” 5 And 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.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

HOLY BAPTISM: CHRIST THE HUSBAND

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Down Not Up

On Thursday, May 26, forty days after Easter, at noon, we will celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11). We confess in the creed each week that He ascended to the right hand of the Father (Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:33). Where does the Lord Jesus go? Because of St. Luke’s description of the Ascension, Christians began to describe heaven as up, that the Father is seated on a throne up above us. This led the first cosmonauts from the old Soviet Union, an officially atheistic state, to say that they went up into space and didn’t see God. So, then, they implied that since they went up and didn’t see God, He doesn’t exist. Similarly, in the spatial sense, many Christians talk of going up to heaven when they die. Think of the wonderful old American spiritual: “When I die, hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly away.” You get that strong sense that our soul or spirit will spend all of eternity in heaven. Another American spiritual says: “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory!” Notice, again, how heaven is the end.

Now, think back to St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). Then, notice what happens in v.14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” At the incarnation, when Jesus, the Word of God was made flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb, John says He dwelt with us. He came down to be with us. The Greek verb for dwelt is “eskēnōsen,” which means to tabernacle with us, to pitch His tent with us. Think of the tabernacle, the tent that God commanded Moses to make as a dwelling place for Him among His people in the wilderness (Exodus, chapters 36-39). It was the prototype of the first Temple.

God came down to the tabernacle in the wilderness to be with His people. They could see evidence of His presence with them as they saw over the tabernacle a cloud by day and a fire by night. God came down not up. When the Word of God became flesh, God came down no longer by cloud and fire but in human flesh. John’s vision tells us that at the end of time as we know it, God and His Bride, the New Jerusalem, come down to earth. The dwelling place of God is down and not up. Heaven is not the end. Heaven is the interim state when the souls of God’s people are with the Lord. At the end, God and His Bride come down. The Church Triumphant, the Bride with the Lord, comes down with the Lord to be joined with the Bride on earth.

The Bible began with Eden before the rebellion, commonly known as the fall when Adam and Eve lost Paradise, and the Bible ends with the New Eden. God comes down to dwell with His people. We will hear more about that next week and the following week in Revelation 22.

New Not Old

When the Lord comes down, He will make everything new. The former things, the old things will pass away. What are the old things? Seven signs of chaos: The sea, the home of the monster and the scarlet woman, will be no more. There will be no more dying, no more mourning, no more crying, and no more pain. Next week, in chapter 22, we hear there will be no more curse and no more night. Doesn’t it sound glorious? Aren’t you ready? There are so many days when we all have had more than enough. So, on Christ the King Sunday we love to sing Andrae Crouch’s new spiritual: “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King. No more crying there. No more dying there. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. We’re going to see the King.” Don’t think up but down. We’re going to see the King here, and we will be made completely new not old.

God tells John: “‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, (that means the A and the Z), the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.’”

Baptized into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have the water of life. We have the divine heritage. We have divine sonship. The old earth with all the chaos, the hurt, the brokenness, the corruption because of sin is finally gone. The primeval forests of long leaf pines and ancient hickory trees are restored. The polluted rivers, streams, and land are restored. Clean air is restored. The overworked soil is restored, and the deposits of chemical waste are gone. Every sin that began and continued to go wrong when the first man and woman rebelled will be undone.

The people of God will be new not old. Our bodies, and those of our dear ones, that grew old, wasted away, were ravaged by disease, died, returned to dust, and were buried will be raised. God’s people will be new not old. Go all in for that vision and never give up and never give in!

Alive Not Dead

Getting the Christian story wrong is one of the greatest marks of the narcissism that plagues us because of sin, our age-old rebellion. We forget at our peril that God has two irreconcilable words: No and Yes. God says No to sin, to all that is hostile to Him. God says Yes to sinners, who die daily to themselves. On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell upon the apostles, they preached God’s salvation story in Jesus Christ until 3,000 of their fellow Jews were cut to the heart when they realized who it was they begged the Romans to crucify. They asked: “Brothers, what must we do?” And Peter responded, “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). That is how you become a Christian. One is joined to the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection in Baptism, and, then, repentance is not a one and done. Rather, one’s entire life is lived daily repenting, turning and returning, to the Lord until we take our last breath, or until the Lord Jesus returns in glory.

We who were born dead in our trespasses are made alive through no effort or merit of our own when we are washed with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (as the Lord Jesus makes clear in Matthew 28:19). Even as Christ was raised from the dead, we are alive not dead. Before the end, we continue to live in sin-sick bodies, but these bodies will be made new. We will be alive not dead. And, because that is how the story ends for God’s people, we cannot get the story wrong when it comes to those who choose to remain dead in their trespasses.

Elderly St. John received this vision when he was in a Roman prison on the island of Patmos. And why was he there? He had faithfully preached the Gospel for almost sixty years. The tenth Caesar, Domitian, had declared that everyone living within the Roman Empire was to offer a pinch of incense in an act of worship as they said, “Caesar is Lord.” No faithful Christian could say those words, for only Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. So, Revelation began with words for St. John’s seven churches in Asia Minor. Remember. Repent. Stand fast. Hold firm.

So, the end of everything old is beautiful and joyous for those who have died clothed in Christ’s righteousness, for those who have been washed in the Blood of the Lamb. These are those who have repented, having been cut to the heart by God’s No spoken to those who have chosen old over new and dead over alive. We should think here of the ancient Jesus Prayer, which is meant to be prayed continuously: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Say it with me: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”). But John’s vision cannot be complete without a clear warning to those who have not fled to God’s mercy in Christ Jesus. The Lord God warns: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” There is a death that is worse than the physical death those facing martyrdom may fear. Second death comes to the unrepentant.

Near the end of Deuteronomy, Moses is delivering his goodbye sermon to all the young folks who are going to cross the Jordan to claim the Land promised to Abram, Sarai, and their descendants. Moses says: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (30:19-20). Near the end of Revelation, St. John delivers a glorious vision the Lord gave him to give to those who are His own: Down not up. New not old. Alive not dead. Remember who and Whose you are. Repent! Stand fast! Hold firm!

For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS

szumwalt@bellsouth.net

St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin insert

Holy Baptism: Christ the Husband

Praying

“O God, through whom redemption comes to us and our adoption is accomplished: Look in mercy on your children, and bestow upon all who believe in Christ perfect freedom and an eternal inheritance; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 1336).

Listening

Revelation 21:1 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… and the sea was no more.”

St. Augustine [Late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius, Algeria]: “First… will come the judgment of those uninscribed in the Book of Life and their consignment to eternal fire…. Afterwards, this world as we see it will pass away, burned away by terrestrial fires, just as the flood was caused by the overflowing of terrestrial waters. This conflagration will utterly burn away the corruptible characteristics proper to corruptible bodies… to this end, that the world, remade into something better, will become fit for people now remade, even in their bodies, into something better” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Revelation, 353).

Revelation 21:2 “…the holy city, new Jerusalem… prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

St. Augustine: “The heavenly Jerusalem is the multitude of the saints who will come with the Lord… Adorned with holiness and righteousness, they go to be united with their Lord and shall remain with him forever” (355).

Revelation 21:3 “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man… and they will be his people …”

St. Bede the Venerable [8th century British Benedictine monk and historian]: “For the elect, God himself will be the reward of eternal bliss which, since they are possessed by him, they will possess into all eternity” (356).

Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more…”

St. Caesarius [Late 5th – early 6th century Bishop of Arles, France]: “He has said all of this concerning the glory of the church such as it will possess after the resurrection” (357).

Revelation 21:5 “… for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Andrew [Late 6th – early 7th century Bishop of Caesarea, Turkey]: “These words are true, for they issue from the Truth himself and are [expressed] no longer by way of symbols. Rather, they are recognized by the realities themselves” (359).

Reflecting

  1. Do I cling to Christ’s promise as a faithful bride clings to her faithful husband?
  2. Do I yearn for all things to be made new forever including me?

Learning

Table of Duties

 Certain passages of Scripture for Various Holy Orders and Positions, by Which These People Are to Be Admonished, as a Special Lesson, about Their Office and Service

 For Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers

 “Therefore, an overseer [pastor] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive. He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (1 Timothy 3:2-4, 6; Titus 1:9) (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Doing

  1. Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.
  2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
  3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend the necessity of having bishops, pastors, and preachers in Christ’s Church. Pay attention to the particulars of Paul’s instruction to Timothy and Titus. Discuss the pros and cons of each of the qualifications. This discussion could take place at mealtime over several days. Be sure to pray for the pastors who serve this congregation.
  4. If you are a confirmed Lutheran or previously attended the New Disciples Class at St. Matthew’s, please plan to attend the New Member Orientation on June 11 from 9 – 11:30 a.m. and pray whether you wish to join our fellowship in the Gospel on that Holy Trinity weekend.
  5. Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. Daily Bible readings may be found at www.stmatthewsch.org. Daily lectionary readings are on p.189 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Week of 5 Easter).
  6. Begin praying for the faithful Christian whom God the Holy Spirit is calling to be our next Director of Youth & Family Ministry: that we will look upon that person’s heart as the Lord God does and recognize the very person whom is the right fit for our fellowship in the Gospel.

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”