Sermon Notes – May 19, 2019

A Tale of Two Cities – Revelation 21:2

   In 1859, the year our congregation was founded, Charles Dickens published his novel, A Tale of Two Cities. The two cities were Paris and London during the time of the French Revolution. Centuries before Dickens the Apostle John wrote a book that could also be called a tale of two cities.  The book was Revelation.  The two cities were Babylon (representing the fallen world) and new Jerusalem (representing God’s eternal paradise).  In Revelation 21:2, John saw “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

   By chapter 21 the four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Antichrist, warfare, famine, Death) and all the other forces of destruction and evil and sin (plagues, earthquakes, false prophets, persecu-tions, etc.) have done their worst but are resound-ingly defeated. “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” announces the angel. (18:2) Jesus, the Champion, arrives on His white horse. He is the one called “Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.” (19:11) Satan, Death and Hades are all defeated and cast into the lake of fire. (20:10, 14)

   In the aftermath of Jesus’ victory John sees the new Jerusalem and hears God 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.  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.” (21:3-4) From that point on God’s story for us is the tale of one city, new Jerusalem, our eternal home with Him.

   What, however, can be said of our story before that sure and certain victory, before Babylon falls?  Dickens began his tale of two cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”  We might ask, “Come on, Chuck, was it the best or the worst?”  Dickens answers, “Both.”  And, I think, that could be said of our lives in Babylon and the new Jerusalem.  

   Best or worst? Both. Wisdom or foolishness? Both. Light or Darkness? Both. Spring or winter? Both. Worst and foolish and darkness and despair because of the unholy trinity (world, flesh, devil) that rule over Babylon.  Best and wise and Light and hope because of the holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) who rule over the new Jerusalem.  It may seem a bit yin and yang at times, but it is not a contest between equals.  Because of Jesus Christ and His irreversible victory we can, even as we wander in the worst, the most foolish, the darkest, and the cruelest wintry days of Babylon, emphasize the Best, the Wisdom, the Light and the Hope that is ours. Babylon will fall. Jerusalem will be eternal.  [G.K. Chesterton’s unwritten adventure]

   Keep the faith!  Chapter 21 is coming and we will be forever separated from the fallen world.  Back in Chapter 3 Jesus promised the church in Philadelphia, “Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.  The one who conquers…I will write on him…the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven…” (11-12) It is written in Hebrews, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come,” (13:14) like Father Abraham, who “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (11:10) Paul reminds us not to be like those sucked into the black hole of Babylon’s doubts and darkness and despair: “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Phil 3:19-20)

   That Savior will come at the end of time in splendid glory, but He also comes to us now through His Gospel in Word and sacraments.  In his new book, Upside Down Spirituality, Chad Bird teaches us, “Babylon’s days are numbered.  But Jerusalem’s are not.  The heavenly Jerusalem, which will come down from God on the last day, already comes down every Lord’s day into our midst as we gather around His Word, His baptism, His meal…The more at home we are in the Jerusalem of the church, the safer we are in the Babylon of this world.” (page 157)


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