What are you really looking forward to?
Richard Baxter, the famous English Puritan, spent much of his life enduring great physical pain. It made him more aware of the brevity of life and the certainty of death. From the age of thirty-five he began a habit of meditating for half-an-hour each day on the glories of heaven, the results of which are seen in his remarkable work The Saints Everlasting Rest.
Consider, a heavenly mind is a joyful mind: this is the nearest and the truest way to comfort; and without this you must needs be uncomfortable. Can a man be at the fire, and not be warm; or in the sunshine, and not have light? Can your heart be in heaven, and not have comfort? What could make such frozen, uncomfortable Christians, but living so far as they do from heaven; and what makes others so warm in comforts, but their frequent access so near to God?
Why are so many of us so sombre, and doubting, and burdened? Have you ever wondered whether it might be due to your failure to give sufficient time to meditating on heaven? To do this is not some form of escapism, of burying your head in the sand. No – this is obedience, this is something we should all be doing!
For what now seems so fixed and immovable, even comforting, is going to be taken away. This includes the world’s great cities. If you visit Rome for any length of time you will be left with the profound impression that this great city was built so as to last for ever. The mighty Coliseum and the great pillars and arches that survive in the Roman Forum can be seen today, but they are crumbling away, and will go on crumbling. One day London will be gone. Big Ben won’t stand for ever. One day their chimes will cease and never strike again. The proud Millennium Stadium in Cardiff won’t last for ever. The world’s great cities are not eternal.
An eternal city
But for the people of God there is another great city which is eternal. ‘In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks”’ (Is. 26:1). This city does not come about as a result of human civic planning. The proud men of Babel couldn’t build it. It is not the product of men’s schemes for their own Utopia. No, this city descends from heaven. It is the creation of God alone and it proceeds from Him alone.
This works in the present. The new, true Jerusalem, the church of today, exists and is what it is because of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. The holy city always comes down from above. A man, woman or child becomes a believer because God has acted from heaven and sent His Spirit into their hearts to regenerate them. The church of Jesus Christ receives every gift from God. The citizenship of God’s people is in the new city, even while they have to live in an old city. The New Testament speaks of God’s people as belonging to that new city right now. In Christ the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us. And by the Spirit God dwells in His people today.
But isn’t it clear that these words have a future dimension, that they are not yet realised? In Revelation 21:5 the God of the universe, the one sitting on the throne, tells us that all things will be made new. Then He swears it by an oath. God wants us to be confident of this. The new heavens and the new earth will be new without being entirely different. The Greek word implies a sense of rejuvenation, freshness, not a sense of something completely alien and ‘other’. Let’s look at three ways in which this city will be new.
No more sin
This city will be beautified. That’s what the jewels symbolise. It will have the glory of God. The city of God is transparent. All sin will be eradicated from the people of God – purged not only from their souls but from their fellowship together. Imagine the day when you and everyone else will be completely transparent. No hang-ups, no awkwardness, nothing to hide, no embarrassing secrets, no shifty looks, no misunderstandings. No private and confidential meetings between Christians. No cliques, no cover-ups. Then we will know and be known, completely and utterly.
Nothing that causes sorrow or pain
Our bodies will be new. Perhaps you struggle in this present life because you don’t like your body. And some people face the most appalling problems. We can think of all the horrible diseases and deformities and distortions that are found among human bodies in this world. But no believer in the new heaven and the new earth will be left like that. There will be nothing to harm or destroy on all that holy mountain. You will shed no more tears.
Our fellowship with God will be complete
The communion between heaven and earth will be so intimate that they have to be spoken of in the same breath. Heaven will be so immediate that it will penetrate and fill the earth. ‘God with us’ is the great goal and end-point of the whole Bible, of the whole universe. Every single one of us, young and old, both those nearing the end of their lives and those early in life, need to be assured that the future for God’s people is unspeakably glorious and joyful. And the reason for that is that God Himself will be at the centre of our eternal lives and everything that they will consist of.
We will see God
Whatever level of communion with God you’ve known in this life, and it may have been wonderful, sweet, joyful, glorious – it’s nothing compared to what you’re going to know in the new heaven and the new earth! We mustn’t give the impression that we are totally, fully satisfied with what we have now. Does that sound like discontentment? Don’t we want to see God, see Jesus? Don’t our children ask us why it is that we can’t see him? Do we talk down to them and look forward to the day when they grow out of asking such childish questions? But is it really such a childish question after all? I want to see God, don’t you? Which of us would be ultimately satisfied with a Saviour whom we will never actually see, but only know by invisible communion?
As you read these words you are still in your earthly, frail body and away from the Lord. You’re still living by faith and not by sight. But one day you will see the face of your Saviour! Now then, what are you really looking forward to?
Paul Yeulett is the pastor of Shrewsbury Evangelical Church.