TEXT: Revelation 21.1-6; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26
This summer we’ve looked from cover to cover at God’s “big story” in scripture. From CREATION to REDEMPTION to today’s theme of COMPLETION, we’ve seen that God is good, God is for us, and God is with us. There are lots of ups and downs in the human story, but our story begins and ends with God, and God’s ending is glorious! While with us Jesus said the Kingdom was here, but not yet complete. But one day it will be COMPLETE and all things will be made new. That hopeful vision is what we’ll focus on today. I want to start at the end, with what scripture says about that; but then I want to end with what difference that makes for us now, using the metaphor of “first fruits” from our scripture lesson in 1 Corinthians 15.
Starting at the End
We began the service at the end of the book: Revelation 21. To me it is such a comforting (if mysterious!) passage describing God making all things new and setting all things right. While with our modern rational mindset it may be tempting to make all this allegorical and mythical, it is no different than everything else presented in the Bible. If God intervened in human history at all, then God can do it again. It makes no sense to believe God could part the Red Sea or that Jesus could be raised from the dead and not believe God could intervene to completely restore humanity, the nations, and the created world. It’s what the whole story points toward, from beginning to end.
I want to name major points we do know (and don’t know) and invite you to dig into scripture or reach out to me to find out more. I’ll include some scripture references if you want to follow up.
So what does scripture say will happen?
- Public return of Christ (Mt 16:27; Mk 8:38; 13:26; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess 4:16; Heb 9:28; Rev 19:11; more)
- Judgment (Mt 25:31-33; James 5:9)
- Jesus will reign (1 Cor. 15:24-26; Rev 11:15 à Halleluia Chorus!)
- New Creation here not off somewhere (2 Pe 3:13; Rev 21:1) – not redemption FROM the world, but redemption OF the world
What do we NOT know?
- Day and Time: definitely do not know, but be alert! (Mt 24:36,42; Mk 13:32-37), though there are indicators – “wars, rumors of wars, famine, false teachers, etc…” (2 Ti 3:1-9; Mt 24:6-7; Rev 6:9-11)
What is unclear?
- Details of the earthly reign of Christ: they are there, but faithful interpreters disagree whether literal, figurative, or historical
- Other details are speculative (things like a rapture and a tribulation; particular to one narrow, recent (American) interpretation)
What Difference Now? (First Fruits)
But here’s what I want to dig into with you this morning: what difference does all this make on how we live now? Scripture discourages speculation on the day and time, and instead urges us to simply live in readiness, alert to what God is doing in the world. That doesn’t mean checking out of this world, but checking IN to it! Remember all that we’ve looked at about what God is doing? God has not abandoned this world until this end, but is working throughout history to redeem and restore humanity, the nations, and creation. The covenant, the prophets, Jesus, and all of scripture commend us to join in this redemptive work.
Today’s scripture passage from 1 Corinthians 15 provides a good illustration of how to understand this. In this chapter, Paul writes about the Easter resurrection of Jesus. He compares (or contrasts!) Jesus with Adam. Just as in the one – Adam – all die, so also in the one – Christ – we will be made alive. (v.22) Remember where we started? God created the world and declared it good, but human disobedience and sin created a spiritual problem? And the big story we’ve traced is that God has been working to answer that problem and restore humanity? And all that history and promise were fulfilled in Jesus. He is the “new Adam” who is now obedient and restores us to God.
Then Paul says something interesting and largely unfamiliar to our modern ears. He says that Christ is the “first fruits” of this restoration, this work of God. Early Jewish readers would have understood this right away. The first fruits were the first of the crop or the flock offered to God. They symbolized that God had first priority and that more would follow. It was not only giving God “first choice” but also ongoing service.
Interesting enough, but Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that the first fruits include those who already belong to Christ at his coming. That is us now. If you already trust Jesus and follow him, you are part of those first fruits. Over the last few weeks I’ve noted in a number of scriptures that God’s purpose in Christ is not that we simply say some words or treat faith like an insurance policy. Rather, trusting Christ is a commitment to follow him, to serve and join God in His work in the world. That’s putting God first, giving God first choice; that’s being “first fruits.”
All of this is to say, while God’s big story frames our lives with a beginning and an end – why we are here and what will become of us – it does anything but neglect the here and now. Throughout the pages of the Bible, from beginning to end, God invites humanity to be part of the story, through obedience, through faith, through action. That’s what living faith looks like, rooted in God’s purpose and hoping in God’s promises.
How will you BE “first fruits” and part of God’s work in the world?
How will you give God first choice and make God first priority – not one day in the future, but now, today, this week?
I challenge you to be specific, to write it down, to pray and follow through, to share with someone else. Maybe it’s re-prioritizing your time or your money; maybe it’s living out “doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God” in some specific ways.
There is that parable Jesus told about the Word falling like seed on different soils. For some the Word takes no hold; others have a quick response, but get distracted. But for some, and this is my prayer today, the Word takes root in our lives, is nourished, and bears good fruit. May it be so for you and me, with God’s help! Amen.
Some Music Used
- See What a Morning (Resurrection Hymn) (Getty/Townend)
- Revelation Song (Riddle)
- Behold Our God (Sovereign Grace)