At the Water's Edge: Faith Worth Betting On
September 3, 2017
This morning we head to the border. Not a literal border of entities or “On the Border” the restaurant– well unless someone wants to go to lunch after the service… We are on the border figuratively between summer and fall, vacation and school – I’m sorry to say teachers and students!
We are also heading to the border between our summer sermon series “At the Water’s Edge,” and our fall series, “The Journey: from fear to faith.” Our summer series has taken us to numerous biblical stories that are near, on, or involving water. In each story we were reminded that Water was a symbol of life- that it preserved life for God’s people through the plagues and the parting of the Red sea, spared Moses’ Life and sustained the Widow, it healed the life of Naaman, and symbolized Justice for Amos. We have been, like Jesus, baptized into a life with God through water, and promised that Christ will be with us no matter what storms of life we must endure. Water is a symbol of power and destruction, but more importantly a symbol of life: Cleansing, purifying and sustaining.
So this morning we conclude our summer series At the Water’s Edge in the place our Christian bible concludes. The book of revelation serves as a border – a border between the already nature of God’s kingdom and the not yet nature of God’s kingdom here on earth. The book of revelation is a vision the disciple John has on the island of Patmos. It is here that John has a vision, experiences a revelation of God’s kingdom as it is already occurring, in his earthly experience. In the celtic tradition this is called a “Thin Place,” a place where disparity between heaven and earth collapses. I’m sure some of you have experienced a time like this in your life. John takes this experiences and writes it down in the form of a letter to seven churches in Asia Minor, this letter is the book of Revelation.
Our reading from Revelation this morning is in the very last chapter of the book, chapter 22, and comes in the context of John describing the heavenly city that will descend upon the earth in the end. He describes the heavenly city with much detail and imagery but I don’t want us to get lost and miss the main point. Lets open our bibles to Revelation 22 verse 1-7.
Read Revelation 22:1-7
This is a beautiful image is it not!? Water as bright as crystal and clear as glass flowing from the throne of God providing water for trees that serve to nourish and heal the land. A river that flows down the middle of the street with these tree’s that bear fruit in each season, the throne of God in the middle with the people of God seeing God face to face! No light will be necessary because God will be their light. This passage is just a small portion of the eternal city, the heavenly city that we find in Revelation 21 and 22.
John’s Revelation would have been in sharp contrast to the reality the seven churches receivinghis letter were living through. You see there is always this temptation to read Revelation purely as a description of what will happen at the end of time. But Revelation is a book of Hope that was written as a commentary on the current context of John’s first century readers. Just like Old Testament prophecy had an element of future hope, they more importantly served as message of hope or correction for a people who were lost and in pain or scared or disobedient.
At the heart of Revelation and at the heart of our passage from this morning we have an image that can easily be overlooked. We can miss this image amidst all the other images and details. If you can remember one thing from Revelation, if you remember ONE thing from this sermon I would want it to be this: In the heavenly realms, right now, Jesus is on the throne of God and one day he will be ruling on earth as He already is in heaven.
The message John shares with his first century readers and with us today is that there will come a day when the rulers of this world will bow, the powers of darkness will vanish, the nations of this world will be healed, and Jesus Christ will reign on earth as he already does in heaven. It is the Christian message of hope- REVELATION IS ABOUT HOPE.
The first century readers needed hope. You see those first century readers were living under the rule and oppression of the Roman Empire. The emperor at the time, Nero, was in charge and demanded that all of his citizens, all those who were under his rule, worship him alone and when Nero felt threatened, Nero reacted, and he reacted violently. So when this rag tag community of Jews started proclaiming Jesus was Lord rather than Ceaser was Lord, Nero was pissed. Nero found reasons to persecute Christians for nearly anything. In fact, some historians have said that during Roman festivals Nero would tar Christians and burn them for light in the wee hours of the night.
In the face of such opposition, in the face of such persecution you can imagine how those first century Christians might have responded. Some churches tried to hold fast and stay faithful, some compromised their conviction that Jesus was Lord and tried to bow to Nero and Jesus, while others abandoned the faith all together. Amidst such oppression – where would the church find Hope? How would they remain faithful in the face of persecution?
The faithful had lost hope and were discouraged.
Those who compromised the faith with Politics were confused.
Those who abandoned the faith were lost, they needed rescue, they needed spiritual healing.
Have you been there before?
Have you lost hope that the moral fabric that held this country together for decades is unravelling? Have you lost hope that the church in America can ever be a beacon of light to the world? Have you lost hope in the common Christmas card line, “Peace on Earth?
Have you ever wondered if we have compromised our faith in Christ for political ideologies? Have you ever wondered if the church has compromised?
Have you abandoned the faith you held so dear as a child? Have you abandoned your faith in the institution of the church?
John’s prophesy was clear: I know you are scared. I know you are afraid. I know you are filled with doubt. I know there are principalities and rulers at work in this world that steal your hope, that steal life.
But I saw a vision and the vision was clear. The one we call Lord, the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, the one they persecuted and crucified, Jesus Christ is alive and one day he will be on the throne on earth as he is in heaven. This Jesus is worth betting your life on. He is a horse worth betting on.
Anyone here watch the big “fight,” last weekend? Many of you may be like me until a couple days before last Saturday’s big fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. Mayweather – an undefeated boxer took on McGregor an Ultimate fighter – mixed martial artist and boxer all in one in the “Ultimate fight” last weekend. Mayweather was so confident that the day before the fight he tried to make a 400k bet on himself! He had such faith, such conviction that he would win he was willing to bet on himself!
John too had a lot of faith. He had faith in Jesus! But my question for you is how could John speak with such assurance and conviction amidst so much doubt and fear, amidst so much persecution? How could he speak a vision that he knew could cost him his life?
First, the revelation John experienced and witnessed on the Island of Patmos was congruent with the Old Testament prophesy that he as a jewish Christian would have known intimately. Consider the heart of our text this morning- a river flowing down through the middle of the street from the throne of God with tree’s lining it’s edges for the healing of the nations. This image is nearly the same image that the prophet Ezekiel received when the people of God were in exile in Babylon. Open your bibles to Ezekiel 47 – this is too good not to check out. This is a prophecy that Ezekiel offered to the people of God after the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the people of God were lost, and hope was at a premium.
Ezekiel 47:1 – “Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.”
The temple is the place that God dwells. In John’s revelation there will be no need for a temple but the temple is congruent with the throne in Revelation. The water of life flows from the presence of God.
From verse 1 to verse 6 the prophet describes this water getting deeper and deeper, expanding from a trickle at the throne of God to a river flowing so fast one can not swim across it. We pick up in verse 7.
Vs 7-8 As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. 8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh.
The sea of stagnant waters is the dead sea. The place where it is so hot and so salty that NO form of life can exist there. I was afforded the opportunity to visit that place last year and I will never forget the commination of heat, smell, and salty water in my life. The basin of the Dead Sea is the living symbol today and in the first century of it’s namesake – death. But there will come a day when the life giving water of God will come and make even the most deadliest of places alive again. Let’s read on.
VS 9-12 9 Wherever the river goes,[b] every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. 10 People will stand fishing beside the sea[c] from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. 11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12 On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
The tree’s that bear fruit in every month and who’s leaves are for the healing of the nations. A vision of abundance, sustenance, and healing. It’s the mission of God at work, it’s the mission of the church in it’s fullness. The water of life that flows from the temple, from the throne of God is for the restoration of the earth, for the restoration of humanity back to God!
Ezekiel and John have a smiliar vision because it’s the same vision that God has had since the beginning of time! God’s desire has always been for life! Jesus Christ the living water can bring life to the deadliest part of our existence. God’s desire has always been that this water is not just for the people inside the temple but that it waters the entire world- for the healing of the nations! God’s desire is that the people of God will bear witness to this, that Israel will return to Jerusalem and be a light to the world for Ezekiel, and that the seven churches in the first century will bear witness to this, and that we today the church of the 21st century church will bear witness to Jesus Christ power to bring life out of the most deadliest of situations.
John could speak with conviction and assurance because his prophesy, his vision, the revelation passed down to him aligned with the vision of Ezekial, but it was also given to him by Jesus. How could he speak with such assurance – because he knew Jesus was worth betting his life on. John had faith in Jesus! John had this faith because:
John was there when Jesus told him to cast his net on the other side of the boat and they caught a great many fish.
John was there when Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethaisada
John was there when Jesus forgave the Samaritan woman at the well
John was in the boat when Jesus walked on water
John at the last supper when Jesus washed their feet.
John was there when they arrested Jesus, and John was the only Disciple who was there when the roman soldier speared Jesus side and saw blood and water discharge
John was there when they wrapped his body and rolled the stone in front of the grave
And John was the first disciple there when they found the tomb empty and John was there when they saw Jesus resurrected body and he witnessed Jesus ascending to heaven.
John saw first hand what Jesus could do here on earth and believed what Jesus revealed to him would come to be. He was sure that this would come to be because he had faith in Jesus.
NOW HE IS pleading with those first century Christians under the oppression of the roman empire, and he is pleading with us- JESUS IS a horse worth backing, Jesus is worth betting on, because I have seen him, and I can testify that he has changed my life and the lives of many others and he can change your life too.
It was a message of HOPE. It was the Christian conviction despite the current brokenness, despite principalities and powers at work in this world, despite the fact that hurricanes destroy cities like Houston, Monsoons destroy Southern Asia, despite famines that destroy communities in Southern Sudan, even though Ballistic Missals are launched into the Pacific Ocean, DESPITE ALL THIS, John says – there will be a day, a time when the Kingdom of God is present in all it’s fullness here on earth as it is in heaven.
This hope is not just some naïve hope that this will happen in the future. It is the conviction that it will happen and we are given the opportunity to take part in it today. Scott Hoeze says:
Hope is what animates us precisely to begin leaning into and living toward exactly the vision for abundant flourishing that John sketches in his vision. Hope is what gives us the steel and the grit to soldier on for the truth, to preach the Gospel, to denounce that which Christ died to end and anything that will not have a place in the New Creation.
Hope is what lead:
Mother Thereasa to bathe lepers in Cacultta
Martin Luther King JF to walk bridge in Selma
Western Seminary to start a soup kitchen in downtown Holland.
Our missionaries Adriann and Bernardeth to Start Medical treatment centers in remote villages in Nicarauga.
RCA volunteers to respond to Hurricane Harvey with hands on help in Houston.
US, Fellowship church, To dream that one day NO kid at WO will go to school hungry
Christian Hope is the faith that Jesus is Reigning in Heaven and one day will reign on Earth.
Are you willing to live into such hope? Are you willing to bet your life on Jesus?
Let’s be a people that trust that God’s kingdom truly will come on earth as it is in heaven.
Whether we like it or not that will be the end of the story. In the end it will be Jesus on the throne here on earth and he will:
Take away the sin of the world
Take away all our pain
Take away all our suffering
Take away all our doubt
In the end it will be Jesus on the throne, but that END will really be JUST THE BEGINNING!