There is a scene in the film Good Morning Vietnam which brilliantly captures both the beauty and the tragedy of our world. Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World is a beautiful song that celebrates nature: ‘Trees of green, red roses too, they bloom for me and you; Skies of blue, clouds of white, bright blessed day and dark sacred nights.’ Nature is marvelled at and I’m sure we’ve felt the same wonder. It’s a song that also celebrates friendship, and above all it celebrates falling in love: ‘Friends shake hands saying, ‘How do you do?’ What they are really saying is, ‘I love you.’ It’s a great song about the fantastic gifts of life: • Creation • Friendship • Falling in love.
But in Good Morning Vietnam the song says one thing while the pictures say another. As we are told ‘the roses bloom for me and for you’, we see a bomb going off. As we hear the words ‘the colours of the rainbow so pretty in the sky’, we see protesters being beaten. And, most poignant of all, the chorus of ‘I say to myself, what a wonderful world’ is accompanied by images of the little child’s sandal. The film’s artistry is very clever because it shows us that the world is not the place it ought to be. It should be a wonderful world, but all too often it is spoilt by people. That’s the world we live in. It should be so good and yet there is something desperately wrong.
The film is summed up by the Vietnamese girl with whom Robin Williams has fallen in love. She says that so many things do not happen the way you want them to. The Bible actually goes deeper than that and tells us why. Today is a day to remember the past and those who gave their lives in the service of our country. As Prince Andrew said at a ceremony at Port Stanley in the Falklands yesterday, its also a day to consider the future, the kind of future we are prepared to invest our lives in, and if necessary to die for. What is your vision of the future?
Does it energise you or
scare you? Does it send you to sleep peacefully or does it wake you up at night
giving you nightmares? What do you hope for? What do you long to see in our
world? These are deep questions. Questions we rarely allow ourselves time to
think about seriously. And even less time to act upon. Instead we shove them to
the back of our minds and get on with cooking the lunch or fixing the garden. Last
week we unveiled our vision of the future as a
We shall be presenting it again this evening. Please read it carefully. It is an exciting document and will form the basis for our next five year plan. It sets our agenda, it reflects our goals and it declares our priorities for the future. This morning we want to go for a bigger picture still - our vision for the future of the world. Please turn with me to Revelation 21. Right at the end of the Bible, in these last few verses we find:
1. Vision of the Future : Peace (Revelation 21:1-4)
2. Reality in the Present : War (Revelation 21:8)
3. Hope of Eternity : Jesus (Revelation 21:5-6)
4. Choice before us Today :
Respond (Revelation 21:7 & 22:17)
In these verses we find a glorious, awesome vision of the future. It is much more than a dream or a wish. It is a description of future reality, of certainty, of what will most surely happen one day soon. It is therefore, for those who accept it, a sure and certain hope in these most unsure and uncertain times.
1. Vision of the Future : Peace (Revelation 21:1-4)
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live 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. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:1-4)
What is your vision of the future? It must surely be peace. Deep peace, genuine peace, lasting peace. As I have traveled to places as diverse as Moscow, Bosnia, Gaza, Nashville and Virginia Water, I have found something quite remarkable - people have exactly the same aspirations the world over. They long to see their children and grandchildren grow up in a safer world than they did. They long to live without fear or want. To have food to eat, a secure home and a good education. To be free to travel, to express their thoughts and practice their faith.
Those aspirations are best summed up in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights agreed by the international community after the
horrors of the Second World War in 1948. The Declaration is founded on biblical
assumptions and specific injunctions such as the Ten Commandments. Human beings
are created in the image of God – invested with dignity and worth. We are not animals, we are not the product of random forces, matter,
time and chance. Human life is precious. God loves this world he created. He
loves you and has a glorious future for you. At the heart of the Christian
faith is a sure and certain vision of what is going to happen in the future. There
will be a new heaven and a new earth. One day there will be no more death or
mourning, or crying or pain…This vision of peace presented in Revelation however
is set within the context of a global struggle between good and evil. While our
vision for the future is peace, the reality in the present is war. Our passage
goes on to warn that not everyone will experience this glorious vision of the
future. Judgment Day is coming.
2. Reality in the Present : War (Revelation 21:8)
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the
vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise
magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake
of burning sulphur. This is the second death." (Revelation
Verse 8 is a summary of all that is wrong with our world. At the same time it is a promise that it will not always be like this. Today is a day to remember. To remember those who have died for our country in time of war. Not just the two world wars. Not even the regional wars of Korea, Suez, the Falklands, the Gulf and Bosnia. Not just the Cold War with the Former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. Not just the sectarian war of Northern Ireland, or the numerous locations today where British and Allied Forces serve with the United Nations on peace keeping missions and humanitarian projects. British soldiers have died on active duty every year but one since 1922. Today is a day to remember them. To remember what it was they died for. To ask with great respect, whether this is a safer world than 1945? Safer than 1953, 1956, 1962, 1967, 1982, 1990, or post 9/11.
This month’s National Geographic Magazine portrays a world where conventional weapons and forces are ill-suited and ill-equipped to fight a war against global terrorism. Still less to contain the decay, theft or sale of the tons of chemical, biological and nuclear stockpiled across the world. We give thanks for our armed forces and those who are willing to lay down their lives to protect us and our freedoms. But history shows, human nature has not improved. To use Neville Chamberlain’s infamous promise, ‘peace in our time’ has yet to be achieved. At best our armed forces or even the UN can only monitor, contain or restrain evil but cannot remove it. This is because the problem of evil lies not in external enemies but internal ones - in the human heart.
Why is this world so mixed up? Because we have a heart problem. Why is it so hard to keep good relationships working with each other? Why do we hurt the people we love most? Why aren’t people naturally co-operative? Someone put it like this: “The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.” When many are faced with a biblical diagnosis of our human condition they go into denial mode. You have very probably seen the film Titanic. Most of the passengers are blind to how serious their situation is. They are having the party of their lives. They believe the hype, the ship is unsinkable. There is nothing to worry about. Don’t be so silly. The Titanic cannot sink. Even the captain refuses to believe the truth. But the shipbuilder who designed the boat knows the truth. He knows that the ship will sink and that there aren’t enough lifeboats. He knows the situation is deadly serious.
The situation in our world is indeed deadly serious. The Creator has given us his diagnosis. Apart from him the future is bleak. The vision of the future is peace. The reality of the present is war.
3. Hope of Eternity : Jesus (Revelation 21:5-6)
“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." He said to me: "It is
done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is
thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.” (Revelation 21:5-6)
The West may eventually recover financially from the effects of the impending war with Iraq but we won’t be able to recover one single life lost. We may find, fight and destroy numerous enemies, but we will never destroy the Last Enemy. “Can no one overcome this most unjust evil of all, death itself?” Once upon a time there was a man who did. A man with no political power, no military might, no financial resources, yet he achieved more than the UN inspectors or Western Coalition ever will. He was killed violently, unfairly, without cause: nothing new there. But three days later He was back. Not just with victory for Himself, but with rescue for us all.
John Donne was one of His followers: He wrote, “One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die.” In these verses Jesus promises that most emphatically, ‘Death, though shalt die.” In John 11 Jesus makes one of his greatest promises: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25). We have here at the end of Revelation a summary of everything taught in the rest of the Bible about Jesus. Notice first that we are told Jesus is seated on the throne. He is the Sovereign. Jesus is Divine. He is the beginning and the end. The Alpha and the Omega. Jesus is our Creator. Jesus is our Saviour. Jesus is the source of life. Therefore Jesus has the right and authority to be our Judge.
John 3:16-17 says "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18).
When Jesus died on the cross, he died to take away the punishment we deserve for our sin and rebellion against God. He has made peace by dying in our place and taking the wrath of God on himself. On the cross, Jesus declared, “It is finished” Here in these verses he declares “It is done”. He has done everything to make it possible for this vision of the future to become a reality, first in our hearts and changed lives, then collectively in our churches, and one day, one day soon, in our world. One thing is sure Jesus is coming back, to bring judgement, to remove evil, punish evil doers and save his own. The vision of the future: peace. The reality in the present: war. The hope of eternity: Jesus.
4. Choice before us Today : Respond (Rev. 21:7 & 22:17)
“He who overcomes will inherit all
this, and I will be his God and he will be my son…The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say,
"Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him
take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 21:7, 22:17).
If we can identify with this longing for peace, if we recognise that this world is not as it should be, if we acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and will return to judge very soon, then we are ready to ask a final question of ourselves: ‘What change or changes are needed in my life to make sure I am ready for Jesus. That I am on his side. That I will overcome. That I will inherit eternal life. That he will recognize me as his son or daughter. This is something that has been on my mind a great deal this past week as I have crisscrossed Britain traveling to Liverpool, to Nottingham, to Manchester and Glasgow doing my own little bit shuttle diplomacy bringing pagans, Christians, Jews and Muslims together to think about solutions to the Middle East conflict. Significantly the last three venues were organized by the Federation of Islamic Students. That’s right – Muslim students wanting to hear a Christian perspective on solving the Middle East crisis. Jesus called his followers to be peacemakers. I explained how peace will only come through reconciliation. Reconciliation will only come when there is repentance. Repentance of all that denigrates and dehumanizes people created in the image and likeness of God.
Irrespective of race, colour, creed. There is only one solution to the Middle East crisis and it is faith in Jesus Christ. I spent Friday afternoon in a smoky student bar at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, waiting for my final presentation, trying to put these thoughts together for today. I asked myself as I ask you today – Am I a fully devoted, fully surrendered follower of Jesus Christ? Am I a peacemaker? On this day when we look back in remembrance of all those who have offered the supreme sacrifice, giving their lives, dying to preserve our freedoms, am I willing to give my life in living for Jesus? In our service we have already gone some way to express this. We have confessed that we share in what is wrong with our world – our pride, selfishness, greed, evil divisions and hatreds… Collectively we have confessed our failure to seek and establish that peace which God wills for his children. But have you taken that first step, that first step of coming to Jesus – coming to Jesus for forgiveness, to make you clean, coming to Jesus to quench your deepest thirst for meaning and purpose. He promises that when we do, we become his children. “The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Rev 22:17)
The bride here is the Church. What a beautiful picture of the Church – the bride of Christ. Our mandate as a local church, as the Spirit of God leads us, is to make this invitation known. It is our primary function as a church to say to all who will listen - ‘Come… come to Jesus to have your sins forgiven… come to Jesus to receive eternal life… Come to Jesus while you have the chance. Come before he comes for you.’
I’ve asked Jane to sing a song that expresses this invitation. I’d like us to listen and through it hear the Spirit of God say to you, come… come, whoever wishes… come and receive the gift of life. Please use this song as a prayer.