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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Rescued from the Depths

Robert Barron - Rescued from the Depths

Robert Barron - Rescued from the Depths

Peace be with you. Friends, on this Fifth Sunday of Easter, we continue our reading of the book of Revelation. The Church gives us excerpts from this final book of the Bible all during the Easter season. Now, we leap, last time we were in chapter 7, for today we leap all the way to chapter 21, which is right toward the end of the book of Revelation, which means the end of the whole Bible. We have to be attentive therefore to what I call the arc of the story. So the whole Bible begins with creation out of the watery chaos, and it's going to end now with the sea disappearing.

So a new creation emerging. So just keep that in mind. But let me spend just a little bit of time filling in some of those blanks between chapter 7 and chapter 21. So we saw the whole book, "revelatio," "apokalypsis", is all about unveiling. Something new has appeared. What's appeared? The Lamb standing as though slain. Jesus crucified but risen from the dead, who's now the true Lord, the one whom we should worship. So the worship of the Lamb in the heavenly place is a sign now of a reconstituted world, no longer worshiping worldly idols and worldly powers and goods but rather honoring and worshiping the Lamb standing as though slain. That leads to the right ordering of God's creation.

We saw last week so beautifully the play between the army of Rome, this mighty army, which represents worldly power. But it's confronted by the true army, the army of the Lamb standing as though slain, those 144,000 marked with a tattoo like the members of the Roman army. And then behind them, this huge crowd that no one could count. That's the army of the martyrs across the ages. So this is the army, if you want, of the new order of things, God's way of ordering things. Now, in between all that and chapter 21, which is toward the very end, there's a lot of destruction in the book of Revelation. We hear about earthquakes and floods and famine and blood and destruction. And people often focus on those sections of the book. When we say something is apocalyptic, we usually mean that section.

Let me just make a quick comment about all that. We know from the revelation of Jesus, our God is not a God of violence. He's a God of love, whose whole purpose is to bring us back into friendship with him. That's God's entire purpose. God is not like a raging alcoholic dysfunctional parent. Please don't think of it that way. People often take the God of the Old Testament too and say, "Oh, there's God who's this rageaholic". No, no, no. God has a passion to set things right. Sometimes you come into a room it's just a disaster. Let's say that there's been a flood or something and the room is just a disaster.

Well, your purpose is to remake it, to make it beautiful again, inhabitable again. But what you have to do, you have to destroy a lot of the destruction. You've got to get rid of the muck and the mud and the debris and the damaged furniture, and you've got to do a lot of the aggressive work just to prepare the room for its restoration. Can I suggest that's a metaphor, that's maybe the rubric under which we can read all these accounts of God's destructive activity. It's God clearing out the debris of the fallen world.

Can I put it that way? Sin and death have left behind chaos in their wake. And you can see it, just look around our culture, look around our world. You see the signs of all the debris of that world. God's about the business of clearing that out. Because he's angry and destructive? No. Think of this: A no to a no is a yes. What's God doing? He's saying yes to the new creation. But to do that, he has to say no to the distortions of the old fallen world. Does that make sense? So all of the plagues and the bowls filled with God's wrath and the fire and destruction, think of it as the cleansing, the purifying of the old world. All the which is preparing for this recreation, this new heavens and new earth.

Now, let me just read to you what we have in our passage today. Beginning of chapter 21, listen. "Then I", this is John speaking, the visionary on Patmos. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more". Okay, marvelous passage packed with biblical meaning. Can I suggest we start with that last observation? The sea was no more. Remember what I just told you about the arc of the story. The whole Bible begins when God brings the world, the ordered harmonious cosmos, into existence. And it says in the beginning of Genesis, his spirit hovered over the "tohu wabohu" in Hebrew, which means the watery chaos.

Out of this watery chaos, God brings the good order of his created world. This becomes now an interpretive key, everybody, for the entire Bible. The tohu wabohu stands for all that's opposed to God's creative intention. And he brings order and harmony out of it. That's God's business, that's God's work. What's the whole biblical story? It's the story of God facing down the reemergence of this tohu wabohu. Think of the story of the flood. We hear about sin now expressing itself all over the earth. Well, that's symbolized in the great waters of the flood. But God sends a rescue operation. Noah's Ark is a place where a microcosm of God's good order can be preserved. It's a microcosm of the good heavens and the good earth even in the midst of the watery chaos.

God sends a rescue operation in the form of a people Israel. Over and against the tohu wabohu of sin, he forms a people according to his own heart. He gives them law, he gives them liturgy, he gives them covenant, he gives them prophecy. All these are the institutions by which the watery chaos is held off. But yet, it reasserts itself, doesn't it? Think of slavery in Egypt, think of battles against the Philistines and the Assyrians and the Babylonians and the Greeks and the Romans. Those are all expressions of the watery chaos making its way back. But God continues to send a rescue operation.

One of his most powerful is the temple in the Holy City, the temple, the place of right praise, the temple, the dwelling place of God. These are all the rescue operations that the God of Israel sends to hold off the watery chaos. But what's his definitive rescue operation? In the fullness of time, God so loved the world that he sent his only Son. Where did the Father send the Son? Into our world, into our humanity, yeah. But all the way down, all the way into the dysfunction of sin, all the way down into death itself. Think of the downward journey of the Son of God all the way to death on the cross is God going all the way to the very bottom of the tohu wabohu, all the way down to the bottom of the watery chaos, that he might rescue us who had fallen into those depths.

Now, in the Resurrection, the Son of God returning in the Spirit to the Father, bringing with him the world that he has remade. Now, everybody, in light of that little review of salvation history, but see, I think it's important, because this is the arc of the story, from the tohu wabohu at the beginning, God battling it in different ways but then finally finding a definitive victory over it in his Son, with all that in mind, revisit these lines. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more".

I live by the sea here in Santa Barbara, and I go up and down this 101 expressway all the time. So I go by the Pacific Ocean all the time. I love to go for walks along the Pacific Ocean. I love the sea. And poets and writers and songwriters have waxed poetic about the beauty of the sea for a long time, and indeed it is. But notice something, in the Bible, you don't find that. They didn't wax romantic about the sea; they saw the sea as a symbol of chaos. We can just fly over the ocean easily, we can have these great ships that ply the waves very easily, but imagine in the ancient world when you couldn't just fly over the ocean and the boats were dangerous and leaky.

Of course the sea was chaotic and frightening and dangerous. You were happy you were finally on dry land. And so you get it, you get it why the sea is evocative of all that's wrong. And so we hear in this passage that the sea was no more. That's a symbol for finally sin and death and all their powers have been dealt with. God has effected his remaking of the world. Now, that's where the new heaven and the new earth come in. God has cleaned out the old world. There's all those destructive parts of the book of Revelation, God has done his cleansing operation. He's dealt in Christ with the tohu wabohu, the sea is no more.

And so now we're ready for a remaking of the world. I've said this many times to you before: Christianity is not a Platonic system. We don't hold that, "Well, this world is kind of fallen and imperfect, and so let's try to get away from it as quickly as possible. Let's hope that our souls escape from our bodies and go to some better place". Well, that might be a Platonic or a gnostic fantasy, but it's not biblical. The biblical idea is rather the resurrection of the body, listen now, as part of a renewal of all of God's creation.

Go back to the beginning, God created the world and he found it good, and he found the ensemble of it very good. Yes, the tohu wabohu reasserted itself, that's the power of sin and death; but God has fought it, and he finally fought it all the way down, so now the sea is no more. And he's in the position now to make a new heaven and a new earth. Now, I'll leave you with a last thought here, because it's challenging as well as liberating. He's giving us his followers the privilege of cooperating with that work.

So yeah, it's God's work to deal with sin and death and to remake the world, but he's giving us the privilege. We who are grafted onto his Son, listen, we who've joined the army of the Lamb standing as though slain, we've got the responsibility and privilege now of helping to create this new world. We do it by our praise, we do it by our acts of love, we do it by our care for the poor. Beautiful. This is how, everybody, the Bible comes to its fulfillment. God has done his great work, so now let's join forces with him as the new heaven and the new earth are coming into being. And God bless you.
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