God is working out his purpose in creation to bring glory to himself, creating from this fallen world a new heaven and earth through Jesus Christ. We, as God’s people and Christ’s bride, will live in harmony with God in the eternal city. Persevere by faith in this story that transforms your future hope.
Introduction – When reading a mystery novel, some people like to start at the end where all the clues scattered throughout the story are pieced together to coherently explain the mystery. Reading the book of Revelation is a bit like that. It is the climax of prophecy. Most (if not all) of the major biblical themes are addressed in Revelation. Mysteries are solved, promises are fulfilled, and stories find their glorious ending. One of these stories, perhaps the story that frames all other Bible stories, is the Story of Creation. The Bible’s Story of Creation is hard to believe when the world, the flesh, and the devil pressure me to exchange it for a more “respectable” story of origin, purpose, and destiny. What does God’s Story of Creation teach about doctrine and life? What is so great about God’s Story of Creation that it’s worth persevering in and preserving?
I. Starting at the End of Creation
A. God will dwell forever with his people in a new creation (vv. 1-4)
A vision of the peaceful new creation (v. 1). A vision of the beautiful new Jerusalem, God’s dwelling place with his people (vv. 2-3). God will heal his people of the evils associated with the first creation (v. 4). Is this all wishful thinking? Is it just a make-believe story? What does it all mean? Is it meaningful? It sounds wonderful, even too good to be true!
B. God’s covenant promises are trustworthy and true (vv. 5-8)
God gives a charge to record the words declaring how all things will be made new (v. 5). There is a promised inheritance for the thirsty and the conqueror (vv. 6-7), and a promised inheritance for cowards, liars, and rebellious sinners (v. 8). If anyone’s story can be trusted, surely God is trustworthy. He says the end of this story is true. God will keep his promises to us, that he will be our God, and we will be his people. He will save and deliver us from all his and our enemies. If we thirst after God and emerge through tribulation as conquerors, then we will be his children, adopted sons and heirs with Christ forever in eternity. But if we become cowards, faithless, liars, or rebels, then God will certainly exercise the curses of his covenant with us. This sounds like the end of a great epic. How did it all begin? What happened in the past to bring the story to this end?
II. What is the Story of Creation?
In the beginning, God created the world and everything in it by his word. God created Adam and Eve in his own image, a human couple joined in marriage, male and female, to be his people. God and humanity existed in harmonious fellowship in the Garden of Eden (an earthly paradise), dwelling together. God’s creation is very good. Man’s task is to work and keep the garden, like the priests would later tend and guard the temple. They must be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it as God’s earthly representative rulers. Finally, God’s people must maintain the separation of spiritual light and darkness, remaining obedient to God’s covenant by abstaining from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Their reward for covenant faithfulness is unhindered access to the tree of life. It is their lifeline to God, their means of grace, their sacrament.
But Adam and Eve rebel, choosing to be the serpent’s people rather than belong to their Creator. The cancer of sin that kills creation enters the world, and so God curses Adam, Eve, and the devil for their sins, banishing them from the Garden and his presence, yet promising his people he will not leave them in sin and misery, but will send a savior to restore creation. Things on earth go from bad to worse. As the primeval world degenerated into great wickedness, the thoughts of men were continually evil (Gen 6:5). Then God destroys and recreates the world in the great flood through one righteous man, Noah, and his family. But the people who inhabit the world after the flood also fall away from God, who then scatters humanity such that it seems creation is unraveling—falling into chaos, disorder, and sin all over again.
The age of ancient Israel begins with God’s covenant promises to the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Through an old man and his barren wife, God miraculously creates his people Israel, a line of chosen servants through whom God will begin worldwide renewal. They are created to be a kingdom of priests, prophetically speaking and living God’s word to all of creation. But tragically, from the outset the nation of Israel rebels against their Creator, rejecting the purpose for which God designed them. In the wilderness they sin against God and prove faithless, unwilling to enter the land God created and promised to the patriarchs for fellowship with him. But God will not abort his plan for creation. Through the tabernacle and later the temple in Jerusalem (which are models of the Garden of Eden), God makes a way to restore his fellowship with Israel, who are represented by their priests. The Lord moves into the midst of his people and become their neighbor. The Creator King gives his people a glimpse of their true home. Their future will be better than what they lost at first because it will be the glorified final version of their first home. God even adopts Israel’s king as his child by the covenant he makes with David, promising to be his God and making David his son. God reveals his purpose in this covenant: someday from the house of David will come a greater son who will reign forever. This Son of David, the Messiah, will be God’s agent for healing the world of sin. He will be the great Savior, Redeemer, Prophet, Priest, King, and the one who ushers in the New Creation. But the incessant, unrepentant sins of Israel and their kings eventually move God to judge. God exiles his people away from his presence, away from their home with him, and pares them down to a remnant waiting, even groaning in faith, for the new creation.
Centuries pass. Then God sends his one and only son to earth, to be born of the lineage of David. God himself comes from heaven to earth, tabernacling (dwelling) with his people to begin the final work of re-creation. Jesus of Nazareth, born of God, is the newly formed Adam who successfully resists the devil’s temptation. Jesus is the newly formed Israel who is a remnant of one, faithfully obeying God’s law. Jesus is David’s greater son, the new king who begins re-creating his people by calling 12 new Jews to be the foundation of the new Israel, the Church. In his crucifixion for his fallen people, his death and resurrection, he becomes the firstborn of the new creation, tearing down the curtain of separation between God’s home and ours, and clearing the way for his people to return from exile back into God’s home. While the church (Jew and Gentile) still sins, this people are reborn, having God’s law written on their hearts and God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within in. The Church is the assembly of God’s newly created people. Individually and especially together they are a new creation in Christ. God will finish recreating her, and through his body he will accomplish his plan to recreate the world.
This is the end of the story. On the last day, God will finish the Story of Creation. He will judge all those whose allegiance is with the devil, those who rebelled against their Creator. And God will recreate the world in the new heaven and new earth. In the new paradise, God will live with his people in an eternal garden-like temple city that he has prepared in heaven, and that he will bring to earth. This new Jerusalem will fill the new creation. All the enemies of God—the devil, his demons, and all those who rebel against their Creator—will be cast out of the new creation into the lake of fire which is hell. The new creation cannot ever fall again into sin and misery, but will be in perfect harmony and fellowship with God forever. How can this be? Because that is the end of the Story of Creation, and God is the author of this story, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End.
III. Why the Story of Creation?
A. To teach us that God creates from nothing by his Word (vv. 1-2, 5; cf. Gen 1:1-2; Jn 1:1-3)
God alone is the Creator. There is no other. In the beginning, he spoke powerful, creative words and the entire cosmos came to be from nothing. The Holy Spirit was active in the creation of heaven and earth. God wants us to know that he is distinct from the creation. Only God exists eternally. Everything else is dependent on God’s word creating and sustaining the creation. He is able to make all things new because he first made all things: heaven and earth, all that is in them. Everything was created by and through Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God (Col 1:13-20).
This story has always been hard to believe. Ancient pagan societies told stories of many gods that fought each other until the victor created the world from the divine carnage. Those myths rang true for people who believed in a pantheon of gods that struggled for supremacy in heaven much like humans do on earth. Today God’s Story of Creation is still hard for many people to believe. Modern and secular cultures apply immense pressure on people to believe the Story of Atheistic Evolution: there is no God (or at least he is irrelevant), matter is eternal, the cosmos is self-organizing, and life is fundamentally progressing toward higher forms by the survival of the fittest. Nature is god in this story, and scientists are his priests. The Story of Evolution answers the basic questions about origin, purpose, and destiny. Reality is physical. You are a grown-up germ with no purpose but to pass on your genes to stronger offspring, and your destiny is death and nonexistence. Any other meaning and purpose for life is created and assigned by us. How does God’s Story of Creation shape us very differently from the Story of Evolution?
B. To glorify God as he works to restore fallen creation (vv. 1-4; cf. Gen 3:15; Rom 8:18-22)
We intuitively sense there is something wrong with the world. This sense is grounded in reality. The creation is fallen, but God is all-good and all-powerful. Our hearts yearn for harmony with nature, with each other, and with God. We long for a perfect home where we will live with God forever. This is a God-given desire that is yet unfulfilled. But God will bring glory to himself to heal and restore his fallen creation. All the hurt, pain, suffering, sorrow, and evil of life in this creation will be banished and washed away in the new creation. Act Five of God’s Creation Story will somehow, mysteriously make all the pain in the plot seem worth it.
The pains of pregnancy and childbearing give way to the joy of a newly created baby. The struggles of marriage and family give way to the joy of tested and secure love (that’s another Bible story!). God could not tenderly dry your tears without tears first being shed. The new restored creation is infinitely better because it follows the first fallen creation.
In those times when the effects of a fallen world press in hard, you can overcome many of your fears and doubts that God is truly good, is truly powerful, is truly in control, and truly is worth trusting with your tears, by remembering where we are in the Story of Creation. In Act Four (Jesus and the Church), God is in the process of restoring the creation. He is working slowly, almost imperceptively, to bring the new creation out of your suffering. God’s story is an encouragement to persevere in trial. That broken body of yours is being renewed even now through Christ. Your broken heart is being mended, recreated whole. That broken relationship is touched by the new creation. Remember the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12). Remember that Jesus our Lord lived and died in a fallen world, and God blessed him after his suffering.
C. To give us hope that new creatures in Christ have a glorious end (vv. 5-8; cf. Rom 8:23-25)
Our suffering in this fallen world is not purposeless and not without hope of a happy ending. If your life had no problems, then you would not hope for something better. Satisfaction is the enemy of hope. Apathy is the result of settling for less than what is possible, desirable, or even what you are meant to be. God wants your sufferings in this life to be shaped by the Story of Creation. Suffering lived in this story produces endurance, then character, and finally hope for the new creation to come in fullness (Rom 5:1-4). God the Alpha-Beginning is presently restoring his people, making them new creatures in Christ, and shaping them for their glorious end—their Omega-destiny in the new heaven and earth. The whole cosmos groans for this glorious end, waiting for it with patience (Rom 8:23-25). What are the rewards? We will freely drink living water that will finally quench our thirst. We will conquer by faithfully persevering—even to death—through suffering and trial. Best of all, we will inherit God himself as a son to his father.
Conclusion – Imagine two people who land a job making bricks. Every day both people go to work for minimum wage doing the same task—making bricks. Both workers scrape their hands, strain their muscles, and labor by the sweat of their brow day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. The first man eventually becomes jaded about his work, resenting his low wages. It is not long before he despairs of life, cursing the day he was born. He wonders first if his life is meaningless, then he begins to doubt whether life has any meaning at all. He even dreads going home at the end of his shift because it just means he’ll eat and sleep before the cycle continues the next day. The only grim satisfaction he finds in life is in sharing his suffering to gain pity or drag others into his life of cynicism. Even when he thinks of heaven, it just makes him want to escape his life now. But the second man does his work with a song in his heart, even while suffering all the same present day hardships. Why? Because he know each brick he manufactures is dedicated to building the city of God. He knows God alone will build the eternal city and bring it from heaven to earth. But he also believes God is using his labor and suffering in this life, fueled by hope in the new creation, to shape him into a living stone perfectly fitted for the home he will share forever with his Creator and Savior (Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:5-10). Living in God’s Story of Creation and hoping for the glorious end make all the difference.
*Note: the idea and title for this sermon, and for the sermon series “God’s Stories,” came from Michael Lawrence’s excellent book Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church.