And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” —Revelation 21:5
“Making the real Jesus non-ignorable in our city and far beyond” – we love that. But our world doesn’t change easily. We might wonder what difference we can really make. Why even try?
This verse gives us two reasons to try and never stop trying. One, God rules. Two, God restores. “He who was seated on the throne” – God rules over everything, he is sovereign, he is our King – “said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” – God restores everything, he is invigorating, he is our stimulus. God has a plan to renew the entire universe through Jesus, he’s working his plan, and nothing can stop him. He has no competition on his level. So I’m not here to tell you that we are advancing God’s mission. I’m here to tell you that God is advancing his mission, and we have the privilege of being involved.
The one and only cause on the face of the earth that will finally succeed is the cause of Christ. Every other cause and business and nation and philosophy and trend – everything else is even now moving toward exhaustion and collapse. An old hymn says, “Change and decay in all around I see.” Another old hymn says, “In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time.” The Roman empire keels over, a battered old Brontosaurus, and becomes extinct, but the kingdom of Christ goes on. The Beatles, floppy disks, last week’s big fad – they all come and go, but Jesus keeps coming. Apple Computers, and the NFL, and whichever party wins in November, and the Oscars, and everything else that seems so well established – only the cause of Christ has historical inevitability built into it. Only the cause of Christ has God committed to it. And here is what our Lord is saying to us today: “I’m the one who will fulfill this mission. It was my idea. It belongs to me. It depends on me. But I want to use you in my triumph. You don’t have to be good at this. You only have to be available. But I will advance the mission all the way to eternal success.”
Freud taught us that we could find ourselves in our past, in our upbringing. He had a point. But the deeper truth is that we find ourselves by looking in the opposite direction – out into the future. Every one of us is constantly living with a dream for a better future. We can’t change the past. But we can hope for a better future. Everything we do hinges on some kind of future hope – even something as simple as next Saturday’s football game. We can’t take our next breath without some kind of hope. What is out there for us, to make right now worth living? Why take any risks at all? Why live on mission? The only answer is the future.
There is a reason why Friday feels better than Monday. Saturday off makes Friday’s work feel better, because it’s tomorrow that makes today livable. What future are we banking on? How big is it? How sure is it? A small future makes us anxious and selfish in the present. But a grand and certain future makes us bold. One of the ways we all can see the degree to which the gospel is sinking in is the degree to which we are willing to spend the present for the future God has promised. The gospel is a promise from our sovereign, sustaining God about a better future only he can create, a whole new world paid for by the finished work of Christ on the cross, created by the endless power of the Holy Spirit, and guaranteed by the God who is bending all the events of history his way. No other hope, no other cause, in all this world is backed up like that. This morning I just want us to rejoice in God our Sovereign, our Restorer. If we will, it will be easy to give ourselves to him for his inevitable success.
God rules us
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” . . . And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” —Revelation 21:5-6
When we say God is sovereign, we aren’t speaking primarily of what God does but primarily of where God is – seated on his royal throne over all of created reality, including both good and evil. To say that God is sovereign means that he is “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” He came first, without a beginning. He comes last, without an ending. No one gets the jump on him. No one gets in the last word after him. God is eternal and sovereign, high above all else, enthroned at the apex of all of reality. “Our God is in the heavens” – that’s his position of sovereignty – “he does whatever he pleases” – that’s what he does with his sovereignty (Psalm 115:3, NASB).
Our translation of the Bible never uses the phrase “the sovereignty of God,” because the word “sovereignty” is an abstraction, and the Bible isn’t about abstractions. It’s about the living God – not the sovereignty of God but the Sovereign God. Three times in the New Testament we do see the word “sovereign,” each time referring to God.
First, when the early Christians were persecuted and fearful and wondering which of them would be arrested next, they prayed. And how did they address God in prayer? “Sovereign Lord” (Acts 4:24). Those were the first words out of their mouths. In that prayer they recounted to God that he created the universe, as only a sovereign God can, and he orchestrated the death of Jesus, as only a sovereign God can. They said in their prayer that the enemies of Jesus did to him “whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28). The early Christians believed in a Sovereign God. But they did not think, “God is sovereign, so what will be will be. Why pray?” The early Christians thought, “God is sovereign, so he can change what’s happening to us. Let’s pray!” And God answered their prayer with power their enemies could neither deny nor stop.
Second, the apostle Paul urged his young friend Timothy to fight the good fight, because both Paul and Timothy were strongly opposed. But Paul looked out beyond the human opposition and praised God as “the blessed [or, happy] and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:15-16). “The only Sovereign.” God reports to no one. He is accountable to no one. He is obligated to explain himself to no one. He is “the only Sovereign.” He is “the happy and only Sovereign.” He feels good about who he is. He likes the way he’s running the universe and our lives. He is not embarrassed by having all that power. It makes no sense to speak of “the happy sovereignty of God.” The Bible is very comfortable speaking of “the happy Sovereign.” He’s good at being God.
Third, in the Revelation of John, it says that the souls of the Christian martyrs in heaven are crying out to God with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10). The martyrs wonder how long, because they know it’s only a matter of time until, sooner or later, the Sovereign Lord, holy and true, will wash away all defilement and expose every lie, and he will bring us into the new world we’ve always longed for, a safe world, a humane world, with nothing to fear or suffer ever again. And just several verses later in that passage God does unleash his sovereign wrath on this world that defiles what is holy and denies what is true. But the point is, the martyrs do not see in God’s sovereignty a reason for passivity but for expectancy. It’s why they pray with urgency, “How long?”
Do you see? In all three places in the New Testament where God is referred to as “Sovereign,” his people are living for him, they are suffering for him, and they see in his sovereignty an incentive not to be passive but to be bold. If our God is sovereign, even over people, then nothing can prevent him from keeping every promise. Nothing can slow him down. Nothing can knock him off course. The present is in his hands. The future is in his hands. A better world, where Jesus will be forever non-ignorable, is coming. In fact, that is the only future we can be sure of. Our mission in our time and place, therefore, is not futile. Our mission is the only cause in this world that is not futile. Our mission is guaranteed by who God is. What other cause say that, with something like the resurrection of Jesus to back it up?
Even some Christians don’t see God as sovereign. But this is not an isolated teaching in the Bible. It’s all over the Bible. We’re here near the end of the Bible. But go all the way back to the first page of the Bible, to Genesis 1, and look at the first thing the Bible says about God. The first divine act recorded in the Bible is this: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). The King issues orders, and things happen. Genesis 1 keeps saying, “And it was so,” when God wants something to be so. God the Creator shapes and colors and structures and names everything. He consults no one. He forms no committee. He does it all by himself, out of his own imagination and wisdom, by his mere word, without breaking a sweat. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31) – just the way he wanted it to be.
In Genesis 12 God chooses Abraham and his descendants to make into a new people for his eventual new world. God could have chosen anyone. There was nothing special about Abraham. He was a idol-worshiper, like everyone else. But God chose him. Abraham did not grope after God first. God moved toward him first, because God’s mercy is sovereign. God later says, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19). In other words, “It’s up to me.” That means God can choose anyone and draw anyone to himself. No one is so good that God has to choose them, and no one is so bad that God can’t show mercy.
In Genesis 14 the Bible uses the title “God Most High” (Genesis 14:18-20). Again, all of this is in the first book of the Bible. God doesn’t evolve into this position. It isn’t something the biblical writers figured out along the way. From the beginning, the biblical message has always been hope in a sovereign God Most High, deliberately freeing our minds from our naturally small and petty thoughts of God. Later, the book of Daniel affirms, “The Most High rules the kingdom of men” (Daniel 4:17). He is not campaigning for four more years. He can’t be impeached. And he’ll never resign.
In Genesis 25 God chooses the younger brother Jacob rather than the older brother Esau to continue this flow of mercy into the next generation. And the apostle Paul, in Romans 9, points out that God finalized his choice before either Jacob or Esau had done good or bad or even been born.
In Genesis 37-50 God superintends the details of Joseph’s life, taking him on a journey through slavery and prison into the palace of Pharaoh. His jealous brothers intended to harm him. But God intended to bless him and use him. And God’s good plan did not have to work against the evil human plan. God’s good plan worked and succeeded through the evil human plan. Joseph himself said to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). God can do what we cannot do – not surprisingly. God can pick evil up with his pure hands and use that evil to do great good – without being dirtied by his involvement.
This is the sovereign God who has called us to partner with him on mission. He brings everything to this partnership, we bring nothing but willingness. If we feel inadequate, we should, because we are. But our inadequacies don’t matter, when God is sovereign. In fact, the only people God can use are people so inadequate they have to depend on him. That takes us briefly to point two.
God restores us
“Behold, I am making all things new.”
Here’s something I never noticed before this week. The word “new” is emphatic in the sentence – the newness and freshness that the touch of God gives. My hero Bishop Festo Kivengere told of an African mom whose child asked her, “What is God doing all day long?” The mom wisely answered, “He’s mending broken things.” That is what God is doing right now in your life, in mine. You see the present tense verb: “I am making all things new.”
I want you to think about that aspect of your life that you think holds you back from living boldly for Jesus. Every one of us has some reason for thinking, “God can’t use me.” Maybe it’s your background, sins you committed that never seem to go away. Maybe it’s a physical affliction. Maybe it’s your job, or your unemployment. But maybe every one of us is thinking today, “That mission is right. But I won’t do much about it. I can’t. And here’s why: ______________.” But our sovereign God is saying to us right now, “Behold, I am making all things new.” The very thing we think is such a setback we’re no use to God is precisely where God is restoring us. He is not saying, “I can use the you that isn’t damaged. I can use the you that needs only a little tweaking here and there.” No, God is saying, “Behold, watch me, I am renewing everything about you, especially where you need me the most.” Every reason we find for not serving his mission is where he is the most excited about what he can do for us.
God not only does not despise the weak, God himself became weak. In Jesus, the sovereign God came down as one of us. What more could he do, to identify with us? He took to the cross every reason why we think God should pass us by. That was his mission, and he succeeded. When he returned to the Father, he poured out his Spirit, to enable us to continue his mission. Now he wants to use our weaknesses and inadequacies as bridges into the lives of other weak, inadequate people, to show them the love of Jesus. Back in the 70s and 80s I had a few seizures. So I take Dilantin every day. For a long time I was embarrassed by that. But God gave me seizures, and God makes seizures new. If you’ve had seizures and you take Dilantin, you don’t need to be embarrassed around me. God makes barriers into bridges. Some of us are unemployed. Some of us suffer from depression. Some of us were not loved well as kids. All of us see reasons in our lives why God’s mission cannot be advanced to more people through us. But God turns our disadvantages for mission into opportunities for mission, if we’ll give it all to him. There’s a new way to be imperfect, to make Jesus non-ignorable. God is giving it to every one of us now, and in heaven God will redeem us completely. Let’s believe that God rules and God restores. Who God is turns our excuses into incentives.
Peter Kreeft helps us get in touch with how glorious our future really is. Listen to this:
Now suppose both death and hell were utterly defeated. Suppose the fight was fixed. Suppose God took you on a crystal ball trip into your future and you saw with indubitable certainty that despite everything — your sin, your smallness, your stupidity — you could have free for the asking your whole crazy heart’s deepest desire: heaven, eternal joy. Would you not return fearless and singing? What can earth do to you, if you are guaranteed heaven? To fear the worst earthly loss would be like a millionaire fearing the loss of a penny — less, a scratch on a penny.