I AM Is Making All Things New

“Adoration of the Lamb” by Jan van Eyck

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“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

“And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also, He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done! I AM the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son’” (Revelation 21:1-7).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Sin separates. It isolates. It works hard to leave you lonely and alone. Think back to the Garden of Eden, when the world was new, and all was good in the sight of God. The Lord created Adam, perfect man, and immediately announced, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

So, God created Eve, carefully fashioning her from one of the man’s ribs, and then He brought her to the man. They were joined together, created to serve each other, to be one flesh. The Lord told them to be fruitful and multiply—to have children and thus increase the number of people together. And all the while, the Lord was there with them, too. Because there was no sin, God could walk with His people in the Garden. It was paradise. No separation. No isolation. No sin.

And what happened when Adam and Eve fell into sin? Separation. Hearing God’s approach, they hid from Him. Questioned by God, Adam justified himself by blaming the woman whom God had given—they were no longer a team together, but she was the scapegoat. And while they’d still be husband and wife, they’d no longer be working so hard at serving each other. Rather, due to sin, Eve would desire to control her husband, even as he would seek to rule over her. They’d never be as together as they’d been before sin.

That was only the beginning. As the Lord listed the consequences of sin, He told Adam what his lonely end would be: “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Sin isolates. It wants to reduce you to dust. And there is certainly nothing more isolating in this world than the grave.

Between now and the grave, sin is hard at work against you. In a world where friendship and companionship are of high value, so many sins can destroy that bond. Pride persuades you that you’re a step above everybody else. It leaves you perplexed when others disagree and convinces you that they’re simply jealous and not worthy of your time. There you are, above the rest—and all alone.

Greed argues that things are more important than people, and so you’re willing to place your earning potential and latest toys over serving those around you—another good recipe for loneliness.

Certainly, too, seductive sins of immorality destroy many marriages, sometimes destroying health and leading to an early grave. Sin attacks health, too. Disease and injury cripple and slow, leaving people shut-in, homebound, forgotten. Alone. This, too, is the isolating effect of sin.

But all of this is only the small stuff. Now please don’t misunderstand. I don’t mean to diminish it—the effects of sin are terrible enough. The isolation and feeling of loneliness is real enough. It can lead to depression and sickness, and in extreme cases, even suicide and death. Just look at the huge spike in all of these mental and spiritual health categories since the pandemic began. But sin’s real goal is not just your isolation from other people and your physical death. It seeks your eternal death—eternal separation from God and His gifts and the life that He gives. Separation from God for eternity—that’s hell. Sin isolates. You know it. You feel it.

St. John felt it: when he wrote down the Revelation, he was a prisoner on the island of Patmos—exiled for his faith and separated from the Christians to whom he wrote. The Christians on the mainland weren’t faring much better but felt very much alone as they suffered persecution along with the normal trials of life.

Though ages apart, it’s still the same sinful world. You’ve got the same sinful nature, and so you know suffering. Sometimes it is because of sins that you’ve committed. Sometimes you’re the victim of someone else’s sin. Sometimes, it’s just life in a dying world. Whatever the cause, sin’s the reason for sorrow and crying, pain and tears. You can’t undo it or turn back the clock, no matter how much you’d like. There’s no “do-overs.” If only you could get back to the Garden of Eden again. If only you could start anew.

“Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). That’s what the Lord declares from His throne in our text. New. Not just a fresh copy of the same old things—but completely new and completely good. Paradise. He has paid the price to make things new. He has reversed the curse that Adam brought. Jesus Christ, true God from eternity, has become flesh and dwelt among us. He has lived the perfect, sinless life on our behalf. And He has suffered the judgment for all the sins of all the world on the cross—that is why He came into this lonely, isolated, sin-broken world.

In fact, what did Christ cry out on the cross? “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Hear the anguished cry and marvel: sin isolates and separates. Jesus had been one with His Father from all eternity, a “relationship” (for want of a better word) unmarred by sin. But what happened at the cross, as Jesus suffered for the sins of the world? He was forsaken, abandoned by God—He suffered the ultimate isolation that sin brings. On the cross, Jesus suffered hell before He died and was laid in that lonely grave.

He suffered hell and lay in that lonely grave for you. Then He rose again, proving that He has defeated sin, death, and hell. Where sin sought to reduce you to dust and leave you in the grave, Jesus has conquered sin and risen from the grave. Risen and ascended, He declares, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Jesus makes all things new. He promises a new heaven and a new earth—one in which there is no sin. If there is no sin, then there is no death. If there is no sin, there is no separation. In fact, God dwells with His people, in glory, once again—just like the Garden of Eden. If there is no sin, then there is no more sorrow or crying, for there is nothing left to cause sorrow or crying. If there is no sin, there is no more pain. These are old—former—things that have passed away, and they have no place when Jesus makes all things new.

It was comfort for John, exiled on the island; and I imagine he rejoiced to look to the time when no sea would isolate him from others. It was good news for those Christians to whom he wrote, the assurance that suffering and persecution would eventually cease. It is likewise good news for you.

The devil will use the sufferings and wages of sin to convince you that God is not faithful, that this life is all there is, that you’re stuck with the same old thing of living and suffering and dying. But it is not so: the Lord declares that, by His death and resurrection, He makes all things new. And His Word is faithful and true.

If you are facing hardship, take heart. God’s Word explains that in this sin-devastated world, even Christians can expect tribulation. In fact, many Christians will suffer specifically because they are Christians. Nowhere in His Word does our heavenly Father promise His children a painless existence. Revelation is filled with examples of Christians facing hardship and persecution.

Instead of being discouraged by this truth, recognize that during this struggle is another reason to follow your Lord! Follow the Lord because He leads through hardship. He sustains you in the face of persecution and suffering. He leads you “out of the great tribulation” that you now face in this sin-broken world, so that He may “wipe every tear from your eyes.”

Unfortunately, some false teachers have confused people by teaching that if you follow Christ, you can expect a life free from all suffering, hardship, and tears. Many people have excitedly embraced this message. But when their situation does not improve, they lose their faith and fall away from the Lord or believe that God is punishing them because they didn’t have enough faith.

Don’t listen to those false teachers! Listen to your Lord! Before going to the cross, Jesus explained to His followers: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Instead of deceiving one another with false comfort, encourage one another with the Word of Christ. Christians do not try to do away with tears but share them. As St. Paul writes: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep… Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Romans 12:15; Galatians 6:2).

When life seems bitter or hopeless, remember that the Lord has not abandoned you. You are not alone. Gather with your fellow believers and remind one another that—amid troubles—Christ now leads you. Through His Word, Christ now assures you that He will not fail you nor forsake you.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, cling to your Savior and His promises. Where you are guilty of sin, do not seek to justify it or excuse it. To hold onto your sin is to sentence yourself to loneliness, perhaps for eternity. Rejoice that Christ has made you new, set free from sin—set free to live a repentant life in earnest anticipation of the day that He raises you from the dead.

Where you must suffer at the hands of others, give thanks that you do not suffer at the hand of God, and give thanks that He has suffered for you. Pray for your enemies, that they might be made new, too. And where you must suffer the old afflictions of this dying world, rejoice that this world is not the end—for by His death and resurrection, Christ has made all things new.

When Jesus returns, He will resurrect all the dead. On that day, Jesus will forever banish Satan and all who follow him. But those who remain faithful, those who look to Jesus as their Savior, shall be welcomed into God’s presence where there will be no separation, isolation, or loneliness. As our text declares: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). God is making all things new!

The book of Revelation offers the great encouragement that, when Jesus reappears, He will right all wrong. Whenever life’s troubles discourage us, the message of Revelation reminds us that life is not as hopeless as it sometimes might seem. Evil may now seem to triumph; however, Revelation shows that Christ our Lord will overcome and make all things new.

In this life the godless often seem to come out on top; however, Revelation clearly shows that those who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him, even through adversity, will be the victors. The unrepentant, sinful, and unrighteous will be condemned and forever banished; but Jesus will welcome the faithful into God’s presence, to enjoy everlasting bliss and fellowship and glory!

If you are now going through challenging times in your family or marriage; if what you see on television and what you read in the newspapers discourages you; if the spiritual messages you hear in the world seem to offer you little direction and hope; then begin studying the book of Revelation, God’s message of hope to you. As you study Revelation, the Holy Spirit will reassure your heart. Each time you are depressed and discouraged by the negative things you see and hear, remember; for a Christian, life is never as hopeless as it might appear. For when Jesus returns, He will right all wrongs and welcome His followers into God’s presence. He will make all things new, beginning with you!

In the meantime, you know your Savior is not far away. He visits you by His holy Word. He has made you His—a new creation!—in Holy Baptism. As you confess your sins and receive His absolution you are renewed. And, in His Holy Supper, Christ continues to give you His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

By these means of grace, Christ shares His victory with you. As one forgiven, you overcome because He has overcome and shares that with you. You cannot see Him now in glory, because of sin; but Jesus is not far off. He is with you to the end of the age when He makes all things new.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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A Good Shepherd for This Life and Eternity

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“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Psalm 23 is the most familiar of all the psalms, and like an old friend, many of us have known it since childhood. This is the psalm that we want to hear when we are facing our own mortality, or lying in a hospital bed, or overwhelmed by disaster, or stricken with grief, or standing at the grave of a loved one.

We depend on it because of what the words give us—strength to go forward by propping up our sagging faith. They remind us that the path we are walking is certain, even though that path is without visible road signs. It is certain because it is not our path. It is our Good Shepherd’s path along which we are being led.

A good shepherd guides his sheep, feeds His sheep, and gives them rest. Our Good Shepherd guides us in the paths of righteousness, which lead to eternal life. He nourishes and refreshes our bodies with wholesome food and refreshing drink, but the green pastures and quiet waters in this passage are better understood as the truths of the Gospel that give spiritual life and peace to our souls. God provides abundantly through His means of grace. “The Sacrament is given as a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself so that it will not fall back in such a battle but become ever stronger and stronger. The new life must be guided so that it continually increases and progresses.”[i] The Good Shepherd gives us rest when He delivers us from the burden of sin and from futile efforts to save ourselves by our own works. His Word revives our souls whenever the assurance of forgiveness brings peace and joy to our hearts.

A good shepherd also protects his sheep and keeps them alive by his care. He chases away the wild animals and rustlers. Our Good Shepherd brings His sheep along the safe paths to their proper destination, including through the “valley of the shadow of death,” a reference to every kind of protection God gives us, but referring especially to deliverance from Satan, sin, and eternal death.

Contrast David’s view of life and death under the care of the Good Shepherd with William Ernest Henley’s description of reality in his poem “Invictus.”

Neither David nor Henley believe that we are ultimately controlled by chance or circumstance. But their consolation in the face of what feels like slavery to these two masters run in different directions. Against the “clutch of circumstance” and “the bludgeonings of chance” Henley counsels defiance: “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” These lines assume that we have some control over our destiny until the very end of our lives and even beyond. But David, rather than asserting his own control, believes that consolation is found by giving up control and submitting to the leading of Another who has our best interests at heart. This Good Shepherd promises that all will be well with us. He gives us everything we need.[ii]

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade.
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Our hymns provide similar counsel. Comfort is found in giving up control and in simple trust. For example, this one:

Lord, take my hand and lead me
Upon life’s way;
Direct, protect, and feed me
From day to day.
Without Your grace and favor
I go astray;
So take my hand, O Savior,
And lead the way. LSB 722:1     

The specter of death as the looming evil in our lives hangs over all three poems as surely as it does over our lives. What hope, what consolation do we have against, in Henley’s words, “the Horror of the shade”? Henley can offer only words that sound increasingly hollow the closer the enemy of death approaches. Against the menace of the years, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul” offers as little comfort as the heroic “I am going to beat this disease” offers to a person with terminal cancer.[iii]

Christian Wiman writes about a famous novelist who praised his father for enduring a long, difficult dying without ever seeking relief in religion. Wiman observes:

It is clear from the son’s description that the father was in absolute despair, and that as those cold waters closed over him he could find nothing to hold on to but his pride, and drowned clutching that nothing. This is to be admired? … How astonishing it is, the fierceness with which we cling to beliefs that made us miserable, or beliefs that proved to be so obviously inadequate when extreme suffering—or great joy—comes.[iv]

But the psalmist speaks about the darkest shadow we must experience in an entirely different way: “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). The clause “even though I walk” already undercuts the threat of death without denying its reality. It hints at hope against the greatest fear. “Even though” raises my expectations that beyond the horror of death lies a firmer truth. It suggests that a way out is ahead.

I do not have to wait long. Death is only a temporary and momentary danger in the psalm—acknowledged in verse 4 but not dwelt upon. The words “I fear no evil” are as confident as Henley’s are defiant. And I am eager to have that same confidence and to hear the reason for it: “For You are with me.”

At this point the psalmist switches from third to second person. “You are with me. Your rod and Your staff…” (Psalm 23:4) and he maintains it through Psalm 23:5. The switch from “He” to “You” adds a sense of intimacy. To talk to someone instead of about him is to assume that he is near and can hear and respond. “Talking to” creates a closeness that “talking about” does not.

In Psalm 23:5, the psalmist comes through a dark valley and on the other side to a banquet hall. If the Good Shepherd is leading us down paths He alone knows, and if He is with us as we go through the darkest valley, is this the place to which the Good Shepherd is leading us? Is this what is in store?

The relationship between Psalm 23:5-6 and 23:1-4 is ambiguous. Psalm 23:1-4 can be a description of our present experience but also a promise of the age to come, and Psalm 23:5-6 can be a promise of the age to come but also a description of the here and now. Jesus is a Good Shepherd for both this life and eternity. Both are true. When we hold the two possibilities together in our interpretation, we began to see the many relations between them, and as a result, we get a deeper insight into the riches of the mystery that is God’s salvation.

The clause “You prepare a table in the presence of my enemies” is also capable to two meanings. It is usually interpreted as “you arrange a table before my enemies, who must watch in envy.” But Scripture holds out another possibility: “you arrange a table before me and also—surprise—before my (former) enemies, who share the feast with me.” The Bible speaks about God’s Kingdom in both ways. In other words, the (impenitent) enemies will be punished, and also the (converted) enemies will share in the Kingdom.

But there is a change in our status as well. In Psalm 23:1-4, we were sheep under the Good Shepherd. Here, in verse 5, we are guests at a banquet arranged by God the King, who is now the host. This is an easy transition because ancient Near Eastern kings were often called the shepherds of their people. A king invited his most honored associates to live in his palace. Such a king spread out rich banquet tables at which the members of his court could feast.[v]

But more than that, “You anoint my head with oil” speaks of the treatment that priests and kings received. Aaron and his sons were anointed with oil as they were set apart for their office as priest (Exodus 28:41 ff). Saul (1 Samuel 10:1), David (1 Samuel 16:12-13), and Solomon (1 Kings 1:39) were all anointed as kings. The tables have been turned for us. Our status as “sheep” has fallen away, and we are now priestly royalty (1 Peter 2:9) whom the Lord Himself anoints.

Following such an extravagant hope, the concluding verse brings us back to the present: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). The personification, the humanizing of the abstract “goodness” and “mercy” gives us yet another dramatic way to think about the Lord; He is goodness and mercy in the flesh, much like He is “love” in the flesh. By humanizing the abstractions “goodness” and “mercy,” they become less disconnected and more knowable to us. They become part of our world—something we experience up close rather than concepts we reflect on or think about.

The final line of the psalm is a fitting climax: “and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (23:6). Many scholars see no reference beyond the material world and translate accordingly, “and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long,” a reference only to the earthly sanctuary and limited hope. But the rest of the psalm has raised the hope that the Lord’s reach extends through the valley of the shadow of death and to the other side, not only up to it.

Who is stronger, God or death? The voice in Psalm 23 would answer one way, the author of “Invictus” another. Is death finally the victor? If the Good Shepherd is with us in death, if, as the prophets say, He arranges a table for us in the new age, if He anoints us to be priests and kings, if His goodness and mercy pursue us throughout life, surely His reach does not end at the grave. Surely, we will dwell in His presence forever.

If it is read this way, “the house of the Lord” refers at once to both the earthly sanctuary and also to the heavenly, both of which are places where God’s people celebrate their fellowship with Him. The Lord is present in both places, and true salvation is found finally in eternal fellowship that is already anticipated in the earthly sanctuary.

Much of Scripture passes in and out of our memory, but there are a few texts that stay with us, always at hand to provide warmth when hearts grow cold. Psalm 23 is one of the texts. People want to hear it at the funeral of their loved one so that they can warm themselves against a cold reality. This is the psalm that friends share with each other when they are afraid, not only because they may not know what else to say but also because this is the best anyone can say.[vi]

Why does Psalm 23 have such a hold on us? Why has it been at the center of the prayer life of Christians through the ages? I think it is because in it we see the heart of our Lord most clearly. In it we see His love most truly. When we recite the psalm as our confession, we acknowledge that the story of God and David is the story of Christ and us. We are the sheep. We are His Israel. Behind Psalm 23 is the story of the Lord, the faithful Shepherd, who led His people out of the land of death and miraculously sustained them in the desert and brought them to the promised land flowing with milk and honey. This faithful Shepherd chose David the shepherd boy to become the shepherd of His people and to bear His promise. And when the flock seemed forever scattered, this faithful Shepherd promised to   through the prophet Ezekiel to gather them again:[vii]

For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out His flock when He is among His sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out My sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness (Ezekiel 34:11–12).

This story rich in promise and hope reaches its climax in the New Testament, where we hear that Jesus has compassion on the crowds because they are like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34), and where He comforts His disciples by saying: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Jesus is the one who tells the parable of the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7) and who says of Himself: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).

Psalm 23 brings Christ to you in all His tenderness and compassion. He guides you safely, even through death’s dark valley. He serves you His Supper, offering you the gift of forgiveness here and now. And His Supper is just a foretaste of the feast He will serve you at the end of time, where you will sit at the head table (Psalm 23:5). Jesus anoints you with His Spirit (like priests and kings) and fills your cup to overflowing with His grace and mercy. Jesus gives you a permanent dwelling with Him in His eternal Kingdom.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd for this life and eternity. Go in His peace and strength. Serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 433–434.

[ii] Timothy Saleska Psalm 1-50: Concordia Commentary: A Theological Exposition of Sacred Scripture (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House), 414.

[iii] Timothy Saleska Psalm 1-50: Concordia Commentary: A Theological Exposition of Sacred Scripture (Saint Louis, MO; Concordia Publishing House), 414.

[iv] Wiman, Christian. My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giraux, 2013, 7-8.

[v] John F. Brug Psalms 1: People’s Bible Commentary (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 114.

[vi] Timothy Saleska Psalm 1-50: Concordia Commentary: A Theological Exposition of Sacred Scripture (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 418.

[vii] Timothy Saleska Psalm 1-50: Concordia Commentary: A Theological Exposition of Sacred Scripture (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 418.

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