Virtually all human beings have a deep desire to live in a world that is perfect. All of us have to reckon with that desire, one way or another.
But here is the problem: If there was a perfect world, we ourselves could not live there without destroying the perfection of that world. If we entered a perfect world, we would bring our selfishness, our pettiness, our impure desires and thoughts, and so on, and before long, the perfect world would be just as bad as this one.
We don’t live in a perfect world precisely because we live in it.
The problem is us. So, what is the solution? What hope can we possibly have, if by our very existing, we destroy the thing we desire so deeply?
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Download Revelation Part 45
Revelation #45. Revelation 22:1-5
1 Then he showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the city’s main street. The tree of life was on each side of the river, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, 3 and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 Night will be no more; people will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will give them light, and they will reign forever and ever. (CSB Revelation 22:1-5)
By the way, today I will focus almost exclusively on the tree of life and the water of life. Last time we talked a little bit about the part where it says there will be no night, and no need for the sun. This is not a literal description of the New Creation, but rather it is meant to tell us that God himself will satisfy every need we have, directly.
So, moving on, let me set the stage.
I’m picturing a scene from a simply amazing moment in my life. After years of wishing, then about six months of hoping, then three months of planning, through the blessing and generosity of many people, my family and I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical in Europe, Switzerland in particular. On our first full day there, we went for a hike through some woods, up a steep slope. We came out on a green meadow that was maybe five hundred feet higher than the surrounding countryside. It was sunny, and about sixty-five degrees. To our right, a lone, snow-capped mountain peak towered above us. In front, and to the left, stretched a chain of little towns at the edge of a mountain lake. Beyond the lake lay more snow-capped mountains. It was like a postcard, someone’s idyllic dream of what Switzerland is supposed to be. We all exclaimed in wonder, and took pictures, and, without even talking about it, we sat down, and decided to stay up on that meadow for a while. (One out of about two dozen pictures, above).
I found something interesting about that moment, however. I loved it. I was full of joy and wonder. And yet, even in the middle of that moment, I found myself still desiring something. I wanted to keep it somehow, to be in it. While in the moment, I wanted the moment. I longed for it. Now, this is puzzling. It does not entirely make sense. When I tried to analyze it, I realized I didn’t really want to move to Switzerland – that was not what I was desiring. I didn’t just want to stay there on the hillside forever. It’s hard to express. C.S. Lewis said something about this:
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe and it, to become part of it.
That is close to how I felt. And it was not a new feeling. I have felt it before when I see beautiful scenery. I have felt something very much like it after reading a moving book, or watching a poignant movie. On a few occasions, I have felt it with close friends and family. In fact, when we say that something deeply moves us, this is often what we are talking about – a deep, inexpressible feeling, and sometimes, part of that feeling is longing, or desire.
This is all very relevant when we talk about the New Heavens and the New Earth. I read our text today, and say, “OK, a river that flows through the city. That sounds…OK. Just like Luzern, Switzerland. Or Florence, Italy. Or, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or, the Twin Cities Minnesota.” What I’m saying is that often, we aren’t terribly excited when we read the Bible’s descriptions of the New Creation. We’ll be worshipping God forever. We’ll be in a giant, cube-shaped city that sticks halfway out of the atmosphere. The city will have a river. Sometimes, that all can sound less than exciting.
I want to remind us, however, that we are not meant to take all of this literally. I think one thing we are meant to understand is that these longings we have in moments like the one I described are actually longings for the New Creation. What I was really wanting on that hillside in Switzerland was deeper communion with God, life in the New Creation. I was wanting the river of life, and the tree of life.
I think I am correct in connecting these things to our deep longings and desires. Proverbs 13:12 says this:
12 Hope delayed makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (CSB, Proverbs 13:12)
I believe this is more than just a saying about how nice it is to have our desires fulfilled. It is saying that our ultimate desires are fulfilled only when we can eat from the Tree of Life. Let’s go back to the garden of Eden. Young, unencumbered by the physical problems that come with sinful flesh, Adam and Eve chose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The result was that sin entered the world, and has been passed down to each generation ever since. The garden of Eden was lost to humanity. Even now, deep in our hearts, we know we are missing something wonderful and beautiful. We know the world is not the way it ought to be, which is a very strange thing to think, unless something very like the Biblical story is true.
There was another tree in that garden. Adam and Eve were allowed to eat from it, but they did not. After they sinned, this is what happened:
22 Then the Lord God said, “Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!” 23 So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. 24 After sending them out, the Lord God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (NLT) Genesis 3:22-24
God knew that if sinful humans were given eternal life, they would become like demons – living forever, but unable to be saved. If sinful flesh was immortal, by definition, sinful flesh could never die, and therefore never be redeemed. We would be stuck in sinful flesh forever. So, God sent human beings out of the garden, and protected them by blocking access to the tree of life.
In the New Creation, our sinful flesh will be destroyed, and we will be living in new, resurrected bodies that have no sin. Then, at last, we can eat from the tree of life – and the text says we will do so repeatedly.
Let me put this all plainly. I believe that virtually all human beings have a deep desire to live in a world that is perfect. Many people recognize that is unrealistic, and bury that desire, but it is there, nonetheless. All of us have to reckon with that desire, one way or another.
But if we would be realistic, here is the problem. If there was a perfect world, we ourselves could not live there without destroying the perfection of that world. If we entered a perfect world, we ourselves would bring our selfishness, our pettiness, our impure desires and thoughts, and so on, and before long, the perfect world would be just as bad as this one.
We don’t live in a perfect world precisely because we live in it. The problem is us. If we are honest with ourselves, this should be quite obvious. So, what is the solution? What hope can we possibly have, if by our very existing, we destroy the thing we desire so deeply?
That, my dear friends, is a question that only Christianity answers satisfactorily. Jesus came to take the burden of our imperfections on himself. When we trust him, he has done it. What remains still in this life is a body that has imperfection written into its very DNA. The Bible calls that body “flesh.” So, our flesh must finally be destroyed, through death, and then we can enter perfection, because Jesus has made us perfect, and death has destroyed our flesh. Our new, resurrected, perfect lives will be unable to be stained by sin and the suffering that it brings.
Then, when all that has been accomplished, we drink from the river of life, and eat from the tree of life. Our deepest, most unfulfillable desires will, in fact, be fulfilled, not by the temporary happiness that comes and goes, but by eternal, lasting joy. Our text confirms this, saying “There will no longer be any curse (v3).”
All of recorded human history is one tiny parentheses in God’s eternal plan. He created us for perfection. We blew it. He saved us, and promises us a restoration of that perfection that we ourselves destroyed. In Genesis chapter 3, human beings had to leave the garden of Eden. In Revelation 22, we enter the brand-new, Re-created Garden once more. All that was good that was lost will be restored, and made even better. This is not the end, but rather, the New Beginning.
This is not a boring, everlasting church-service. This is the fulfillment of your truest, deepest desires in ways that we can’t even imagine right now. Now, as it happens, that fulfillment will indeed involve profound worship. But my point is, even now, your desires are pointing you toward what that will feel like when we eat from the tree of life.
So, a few questions for us, by way of application. What are some things that spark that deep desire in your life? Can you remember some moments when you were filled with both joy and a profound, unnamable desire at the same time? Is there something you can do to have more of those moments?
Second, I think that even before we reach the New Creation, we can get a taste of the tree of life, and the water of life. Jesus had a famous conversation with a woman from Samaria. He started a conversation with her about water from a well. This is how it went from there. He said:
“If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”
13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (NLT John 4:10-14)
Jesus has living water for us right now. It will be even better in the New Creation, but even now, we can recognize that our deepest thirst is actually for a true, right relationship with God. We can begin, even now, to have that thirst satisfied.
How can we use our thirst for God, and hunger for His tree of life to encourage and strengthen us right now? We can ignore the thirst. We can try and satisfy the hunger with the things we can get on earth. But how can we do the opposite? How do we seek the eternal food and drink? How can we use our desires to keep us focused on the joy that is ahead of us?
Let the Holy Spirit Speak to you now, as you wrestle with these questions.