Revelation 21:1–5 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
A certain reality and feeling so captured one of the modern world’s most influential minds that she put words to music. Her experience of this life was so common and so universal that her song landed on a list of 2015’s current and best pop songs. This is what that great influencer sang: “Lost in the world of me, myself, and I. Was lonely then like an alien. I tried but never figured it out. Why I always felt like a stranger in the crowd. Had to get used to the world I was on. While yet still unsure if I knew where I belong. Ooh, that was then like an alien.” Call it alienation. Call it estrangement or homelessness or some kind of heart-level separation. Call it whatever you want to call it, but that’s what the great 21st century influencer, Brittney Spears, sang about in a song simply called Alien – a song that is currently climbing the pop charts. And, for the record, if you’re wondering why I know that just know that strange things can happen when the rain keeps falling and you have a subscription to Apple Music.
Alienation. Separation. Estrangement. These aren’t just words for us. These aren’t unique experiences of Brittany’s pop culture life. They’re what we feel. They’re what we see. They’re a fair characterization of all of our lives right now. Even of the lives of Christian people who have the Spirit. Even of the life of one of God’s Apostles named John. You can almost sense his yearning, his prayers, his heart’s desire for all the alienation to end as he fills us in on this vision he was given a perfect future. “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” (v. 1) So there’s going to be new sky. Here it’s called a new heaven. And there’s going to be a new place to live. Here it’s called a new earth or a new planet. And all by itself, that sounds just awesome. We’re going to get a new and better environment. We’re going to get a new and improved ecology, lifestyle, and climate. We’re going to have a better and different place to do life and a new planet on which to experience more vibrant living. And that’s the vision that John wants to place before us of our shared future.
What’s probably most interesting here though isn’t what John is looking at or what he sees. What most interesting is what John doesn’t see. What’s missing and what he notices won’t be around anymore. Did you catch that? John very pointedly observes not only what’s there – a new sky and a new planet – but also what wasn’t there. He says there wasn’t any sea. It’s just interesting to think about that, isn’t it? That in that moment and in that vision of that planet a certain bit of topographical information caught his attention with so much power and so much force that he thought we should know about it. Interesting, isn’t it? There’s no comment here about mountains missing or hills or plains or lakes or rivers not being there. There’s no mention of those types of topographical points of information at at all. There’s only a comment about a missing ocean. Now I suppose we could notice that and think, “Bummer. I guess my idea of a heaven with palm trees, ocean breezes, and snorkeling in water like you might find off the coast of Belize isn’t what God has in store for my future.” Or, I suppose we could come to the conclusion that God just isn’t a fan of salt water or something. But that hardly seems worth mentioning when what you’re really trying to do is help your readers grasp the reality of the new heaven and the new earth. Mere topography really isn’t that important.
That’s why we can know this really isn’t talking merely about topography. We have to understand something about the book of Revelation. It’s a book full of symbols. Just chock full of them. In fact, that’s what God said he was going to do for John right at the beginning of this book. He said he was going to sign or symbolize the future to him. That’s why most commentators believe the sea here is a symbol. And it’s more than just a symbol of threatening power. Yes, the sea threatens. Yes, the Titanic did go down and hurricanes do hit, but again it’s more than just a symbol of threatening power. It’s more than the fact that in the new heaven and new earth boats won’t sink anymore. For us to understand what John’s after here, we have to know that John saw this vision while he was exiled. While he was separated. While he was estranged and alienated from the life and the people he loved. On clear days it must’ve just killed him as he stared off from his island and there in the distance he could see his home church over there in Ephesus. There – over there – were the people he loved. There was the church he wanted to attend. And there was the fellowship and the togetherness he craved. And what separated them? The sea. The sea alienated him and it estranged him in such a troubling way that the very first thing John notices about the new sky and the new planet is that that kind of estrangement as they say in Spanish, “No existe.” There was no sea.
But please understand something. This isn’t John journaling for us his psychological despair. It’s John feeling right along with us. Alienation characterizes every aspect of life in the current heaven and the current earth. I could go on and on about that. For example, there is the me that I am. And then there is the me I actually want to be that I’m always estranged from. If you want to use psychological terms to talk about that you can say that I’m not fully actualized or if you want to use scriptural ideas we’d say that we’re not yet perfectly Spirit-filled personalities. And so we burst out with behaviors and words that make us shake our heads in disappointment and sometimes even in disgust as we do life. Sin alienates us from ourselves. And then there’s the gap that we experience between ourselves and others. Even this life’s highest relationships suffer. I’ve never once been to a 50th wedding anniversary (And I’ve been to a bunch!) where the couple has said, “It’s been all sunshine and rainbows.” You know what they’ve always said to me? They’ve always said, “There was a time when it was ridiculously difficult.” Every time. Even in the most foundational human relationship that we call marriage there can be a mere inch of personal space that for all intents of purposes is an also an emotional gap as wide as the Atlantic.
And that’s not just it. Since we’ve been hearing this morning from influencing 21st century minds who put their thoughts to music I’d like to remind you of what a lady named Stacie Orrico sang back in ‘O3. She sang, “I’ve got it all, but I feel so deprived. I go up, I come down and I’m emptier inside. Tell me what is this thing that I feel like I’m missing. And why I can’t let it go?” That’s what Stacie Orrico felt. Though this world was all she had ever experienced. Though this life was all she had ever known she sensed this profound loss – that there was a fundamental piece of her life that was just plain missing. The greatest tragedy of all? In the song she makes no attempt at guessing what that might be. And for us as Christians, it’s arguable worse. We understand that we’re not just missing a fundamental piece of life. We understand sin means that we’ve been estranged from our fundamental life and wholeness: God. That that’s actually the centerpiece and the cause of every other form of alienation we experience here. That way, way back in that ancient garden we ran and we hid from the one being that makes us tick and makes us who we are and make us eternally whole. And since then life has become characterized by that gap – that guilt caused and sea-sized gap – between us and God. The ultimate alienation.
That’s the gap John’s talking about. That’s the sea. That’s the ocean. That’s what John’s eyes immediately notice is missing from the new sky and the new planet. And that’s what a voice booms to John will never be the case again. That the new heaven and the new earth will be characterized by a complete lack of alienation. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.’” (v. 3–4) God will dwell with the people. He will claim them and the people will claim him. Finally, the fundamental piece of human wholeness will be visible and manifest and always just there. And then bursts onto John’s scene this visual that is totally arresting in the best of ways. It’s a scene that for centuries has inspired paintings and created yearning. It’s a scene that has at times made the most joyful of people more joyful and at other times has given the most emotionally devastated people reason to hope. In the new heaven and the new earth, God will wipe every tear from your eyes.
Do you see how significant that scene is? Why that’s the lynchpin and the center and the only image that this booming voice gives us? I don’t want to hammer this too hard, but think about it. Everything here ends in tears. Everything. Because everything ends. Let me just give you one example. Have you ever thought about the fact that every marriage ends in tears? Every. Single. One. They have to. Because they all must end. The only question is how many people will have tears in their eyes. Whether it’s one or two. Whether its by divorce or by death. And that’s just one example. Everything here ends with tears. Because everything here ends. And so what John is showing us is a future where this world of endings will itself finally end. But it’s not just that. This is not just a picture of a future where endings end and it’s not even just a vision of a new world of eternal beginnings. It’s better.
You know what John is showing us? John is showing us through tear wiping – the most emotionally intense scene possible – that every emotional gap is going to be erased. Do you see that? Somebody – anybody – wiping tears away is the highest height of emotional intimacy. If I tried to pull that off on anybody in here besides my wife or daughter, it’d be the creepiest thing ever, but in the new world? God is saying that he’s going to look right down into the windows of your soul, see the pain there, and both literally and metaphorically with his divine and glorious finger wipe it all away. That’s the perfect height and the ultimate depth of emotional intimacy and the perfect opposite of alienation. All emotional gaps will be completely eradicated, erased, and gone. I mean think of the glory of this. Denial, repression, and suppression all will be ancient history. Loneliness and aloneness will never happen again. I mean we’re talking about men who will finally be emotionally liberated and women who will be seen for everything that they are.
That’s what’s happening here. John is picturing a reality where a being will know us so well and make us feel so free that our deepest hurts will come pouring out in a rush of relief never to be felt again. We’re talking about an intimacy so pure that God can not only get away with this tear wiping activity, but that God will be invited to it. Gone forever will be the days where technology promises the world: a way to find our tribe and our people, the group that will finally get us, only to find out that social networks can leave us more isolated than ever before. Gone eternally will be the sad realization that not even a Christian marriage can give you a space where another being gets you in the most profound of ways and always wants to be around you. Arrived will be the time when there will be such a deep and comfortable connection that God will look right into your eyes and suddenly the pain and the grief and the death will exit your soul in a rush of peace. Arrived will be the time when every sense of alienation will be replaced with a God who will love you, and know you, and appreciate you the way that so deep down and forever you’ve thought it could be and should be. Every tear will gone wiped away by the finger of God himself. A being who who is so much better than a soul mate. Our soul’s source. Our soul’s beginning. And our soul’s end.
That’s when we’ll finally be home. And I mean that in the most profound of ways. We’ll be home. Never again will there be yearning. Never again will there be wishing or wanting. Never again will anybody have any reason to sing as the great 21st century influencer, Brittney Spears, sang, “But the stars in the sky look like home.” Followed by the words full of yearning, “Not alone,” sung not once, not twice, not three times, but a whopping 48 times in a less than four-minute song. Then we’ll be home and not alone. And our souls will sing. I think the song will say something about how Jesus erased the gap between us and him not only by coming down here to us, but also by becoming one of us. I think the song will say something about how he bridged the gap between us and him with his cross and by it wiped every sin inflicted pain and every guilt imposed tear from our eyes. And that now for an eternity we’ll celebrate the removal of that gap in a brand new world that so eternally, and so delightfully, and so joyfully, and so remarkably has no sea, but only pure God with whom we’ll finally be home. Amen.