Watchnight Service: 12-31-10
By Mark E. Hardgrove, D.Min., Ph.D.
Text: Revelation 22:1-20
1 And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. 4 They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. 5 There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.
If you’ve been reading the Bible through with us this year, then you’ll have to admit with me that reading the last chapter of Revelation really brings a sense of resolution, a sense of completion and an ultimate end to a journey that has taken humanity through the vicissitudes of life and faith and has brought us back to the beginning of God’s plan for humanity. Reading through the Old Testament prophets, while simultaneously reading through the book of Revelation, can really be an emotionally challenging endeavor. We read of the failure of humanity, the seeming triumph of evil, the wrath and judgment of God, and the destruction of earth as bowl after bowl of God’s wrath is poured out. We read of trumpets, of peels of thunder, of thunderous voices from heaven, of the crying out of the souls from under the altar, and the thundering hoof beats of the seven horsemen of the apocalypse. It is a noisy vision, but it all culminates in a quiet conclusion that takes us back to the beginning. It reminds me of riding a roller-coaster where, after all that noise, and all that jostling around, and all those scary moments, you end at the beginning.
I) THE MAN
The Bible begins with the account of creation. It illustrates the power of God to speak a universe into existence, to create light, and beauty, and life. The Bible opens with humanity made in God’s image and placed in a garden, a paradise. Genesis chapter 1 says:
27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Gen 1:26-28, NKJV)
They were given access to every fruit and vegetable in the Garden, with one exception, they were instructed not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This was the only restriction, and it was a test of their love, loyalty and obedience to God.
As you know, Genesis chapter 3 gives us the account of the serpent tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. There was but one restriction, one thing in the garden that the man and the woman were to refrain from eating, and that is the very thing that the serpent, Satan incarnate, used to tempt Eve. Ultimately Eve ate the forbidden fruit, gave it to her husband, Adam, who was with her, and as a result of one man’s sin, all of humanity was plunged into sin. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:12 that “through one man [talking about Adam] sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” And so the story begins and in page after page we read of two things that are consistent throughout: first we read that humanity continually and consistently fails and falls; and second, we read that God never stops loving us.
II) THE PLAN
Satan, the fallen angel, finds his way into the idyllic setting of the Garden of Eden. There he embarks upon a plan to rob God of man’s obedience, reverence and worship. Because Satan could not defeat or defile God in his rebellion, Satan endeavors to do the next best thing, and that is to defile the only thing in the universe that is said to bear the image and likeness of God. Every time Satan gets us to do that which is ungodly, every time we give in to temptation and engage in activity that is unholy, immoral, and sinful Satan has the satisfaction of seeing that which bears God’s image doing things that God would not do.
In 1 Corinthians 6:15-17 the apostle Paul said it like this:
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For "the two," He says, "shall become one flesh." 17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. (NKJV)
That’s Satan’s plan. When we give in to temptation and engage in ungodly and unholy activities, whether it is fornication, adultery, or even things like gossiping, tale-bearing, or unforgiveness, Satan has the satisfaction of seeing us, who bear God’s image and who are members of His spiritual body, doing things that God would never do.
Satan had a plan and by all appearances Satan has been successful in carrying out his plan. In addition to the demonic force of fallen angels who follow him, Satan has received aid and assistance from fallen humanity. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do” (John 8:44).
When we think of the atrocities and heinous acts of violence and cruelty that humanity has carried out against humanity, we see the ultimate satisfaction of Satan in his plan. Satan gets to see that which bears God’s image and likeness carrying out violence against that which bears God’s image and likeness.
However, we know that God is omniscient. God knows the end from the beginning and God knew what was going to happen before He created the first man. God knew that man would fall if He gave man the power of free-will. So why did God create man? God created man because God was willing to give everything, and willing to do anything, to defeat Satan and sin and thus take back that which is His. Before Satan created the problem, God already had a plan. In Revelation chapter 13 verse 8, Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth.”
When you go back and look at the sequence of creation, you find of course that the earth was created before human life was created, before Satan tempted Eve, and before Adam ate the forbidden fruit. So when the Bible refers to Jesus as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth, that tells us that before Satan ever had the opportunity to put his plan into place, God already had a plan to redeem fallen man, restore fallen man, and to return the fallen human race to the place God had purposed from the beginning, that is, that we should live in eternal, harmonious, and glorious relationship with Him.
The apostle Paul said in Romans 5:19, “For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous.” He says that “the gift of grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded to many” (5:15).
God had a plan. Thank God, He didn’t give up on humanity when we fell. It may sometimes look like Satan is winning, but the truth is that he has already lost. He may win a battle now and then, but the outcome is not in doubt. Satan, that old serpent of old, has already had his head crushed by the bruised heel of Jesus. The cross was the plan. Satan may have thought he won when he moved the masses to cry out “Crucify Him!” Satan may have had a momentary satisfaction in seeing those created in the image and likeness of God, nailing the Son of God to an old rugged cross. But the fact is that God’s plan was unfolding just as God anticipated. Jesus was dying for our sins. Jesus was breaking the chains of sin. Jesus was opening prison doors and setting the captives free. Jesus was bearing the sins of the world upon His shoulders and when He had accomplished all that the Father had sent Him to do, He cried out with a loud voice, “It is finished!”
At that moment the veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom and the mercy seat was visible and available for whosoever will. The middle wall of partition that separated Jew and Gentile, male and female, was torn down. The gates to the Throne of Grace were flung open and the invitation was given to come boldly to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16).
At the cross Satan said, “Check!” But God said, “Checkmate!” and the victory was assured. Like a dying man in the final throws of death, Satan will kick and thrash about as his end draws near, but the outcome is not in doubt.
He will unleash everything he has in a final barrage of rebellion against God and against God’s people, but the outcome is not in doubt.
He will marshal the nations of the world in one final great rebellion, but the outcome is not in doubt!
The days will get dark, the righteous will be hated and persecuted, punctuated by fiery trials, temptation, and tribulation, but the outcome is not in doubt!
Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse. Many shall depart from the faith. We will be hated of all men for His name’s sake, but the outcome is not in doubt.
Scoffers will arise saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?” and the world will mock the church, but the outcome is not in doubt.
I’ve read the back of the Book, I’ve seen through the eyes the apostle John the end-time vision and WE WIN! Satan is snatched up by his neck, along with all his demons and those who follow him, and is thrown into the lake of fire where he is and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev. 20). Hallelujah! If we are serving Jesus, if our hope and faith is in Him and in the grace of God that was lifted up on an old rugged cross, then the outcome is not in doubt. We win! We win! We win!
Let the church shout it from the housetops, “We win!”
Let the discouraged encourage himself and say with restored conviction and resounding confidence, “We win!”
Let the bruised, the battered, and the beleaguered square his shoulders and fix his gaze upon the triumph that lies ahead and declare with renewed determination, “We win!”
Let the preacher preach it, let the teacher teach it, let the singer sing it, let the worshipper shout it, let the prophet prophesy it, but above all, let the devil hear it loud and clear, “We win! We win! We win!”
III) THE PARADISE
What does that mean: We win? For one thing it means restoration. There are seven new things that we find in the final two chapters of Revelation: a new heaven, a new earth, a New Jerusalem, a new world order, a new temple, a new light, and new paradise. In verses 1 through 5 of chapter 22, we read of the new paradise. What was lost in Adam is restored in Jesus. There is no more curse, no more death, no more tears, no more sin or sorrow or separation. In this paradise we “shall see His face, and His name shall be on our foreheads” ( 22:4).
The serene and secure Garden of Eden (from which man through sin was thrust out and barred from the tree of life) is now restored in greater splendor and redeemed humanity is invited by the Holy Spirit to come and partake of the waters of life freely.
This is message of the church to a lost and dying world: “Come and drink of the waters of life.” This was the plea of Jesus to the spiritually downtrodden: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” This is the call of the Father to the prodigal son: “Come home! Come home! All who are weary come home!”
In Revelation chapter 22 we are back in the garden with the tree of life and we are once again face to face with God, dwelling in His marvelous glory and light. In Revelation chapter 22 we enter again into eternity after our brief and mortal excurses into time. It will be like waking up from a dream and realizing that we are back where we belong, in the arms of Him to whom we belong. Psalm 126 says it like this:
1 When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.
2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them.
3 The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.
4 Turn again our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the south.
5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
6 He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
My friends, the outcome is not in doubt—we win. It is a difficult journey at times. There are times when “weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 305). The outcome is not in doubt. Jesus said, “In the world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). The outcome is not in doubt. There are times when we don’t understand what God is doing and we fall with our faces into the pillow crying, “Why?” There are seasons in life that defy reason. There are issues and problems that come our way for which we have no answer and no option other than to fall on our knees in surrender to the sovereignty of God and declare, “I don’t understand, and I don’t like it, and wish this would go away, but even if it doesn’t, even if I must weep until the day breaks upon me, I trust you God, and I declare with the apostle John, that if I keep my faith in you, the devil is defeated and I win!”
That apostle Paul, again in Romans, said:
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. (Rom 8:18-25, NKJV)
It may not feel like it right now, but we win. We may not see much evidence of it right now, but we win. The earth may be groaning, and we in our mortal bodies may be groaning with it, and the Spirit of God within us may be groaning for it as we wait for it, but WE WIN! Paul said, “We eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”
John wraps up the vision, and the Bible ends with these words:
18 For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
20 He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming quickly."
Are you ready to win? Are you ready to reign with Him? Because if you’re not, then as T. D. Jakes says, you’d better “get ready, get ready, get ready, get ready, get ready, GET READY!” Jesus is coming back, and He said, “SURELY, I am coming quickly.”