The Party at the End of the Age
Sunday, October 31, 2021 at The First Congregational Church of Marshalltown, Iowa
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
• Intro: All Saints’ Day
Monday is All Saints’ Day, in which we celebrate those who have gone before us and left good examples for us to follow. It reminds us that we will all be together in the future, never to be parted again. Old friends and loved ones, long parted see each other once again and all that is of eternity; love and, worship, fellowship friendship and tenderness, remain and all that causes sorrow and heartache leave forever. In heaven there is an event called the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb”. I believe that the Marriage Supper is a real event, but I also suspect that the image of a wonderful feast, or a family reunion in the best sense of the phrase, is an image that fits heaven in general. It is the party at the end of the age.
• Set the stage
The passage that we consider today is toward the end of the epic vision the Apostle John had while suffering in exile on the miserable rock of an island they called Patmos. In the vision he was called up into heaven where he saw and heard events both ageless and yet to come, culminating in the end of the age and of this world as we understand it. Indeed, the passage tells us that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, fulfilling the promise of Jesus the night of His betrayal (John 14) in which He told them that He was going to prepare a place for them. The new earth has no sea, symbolizing the absence of chaos, strife and evil, or that the river that flows from the Throne (Revelation 22) flows throughout the earth in the place of the seas. There God will dwell with the people, as He has wanted to do since the days of Genesis, and then we read some of the most beautiful words of Scripture: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
• God will wipe away
The word for “wipe away” consists of the verb that is translated “to anoint” with the prefix the means “out”. Anointing is the symbolic placement of a drop of oil on the forehead of a person receiving prayer for healing or for preparation for ministry and it serves as a point of contact. The person is put in contact with the blessing and gifts of the Holy Spirit to meet the need. In Revelation 21:4 the point is the opposite, rather the removal of all that is grievous and destructive, death, sorrow, crying, pain. All of that will be gone forever. This is echoed throughout the centuries. The great prophet Isaiah describes a choice feast for His people on Mount Zion and there he will destroy death forever and in verse eight utters the same promise as in Revelation, that He will wipe all tears from their faces. The Apostle Paul may have had this very verse in mind when he wrote “the last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26)
• For the former things have passed away
2 Corinthians 5:17
The final phrase of this wonderful verse is “for the former things have passed away.” My first thought when I read this was, “what are the former things?” The immediate context would be the
old heavens and the old earth in verse one. It could also include death, sorrow, crying and pain. I think it also includes condemnation and sin, for I see this in the faces of people that I know. One of the greatest statements of the new life of a Christian is 2 Corinthians 5:17 and it mentions this whole process. It reads “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Again, there is the mention of old things passing away. We see the process culminated in Revelation on the faces of people in churches all around the world. The process that ends with a new heavens and a new earth has begun with the death and Resurrection of Jesus, and continues, in the hearts of people who have embraced Christ as Lord. They have new hearts, new minds and new lives and it shows on their faces. It is the evidence of the inevitability of what is promised in Isaiah and Revelation. Years ago, I stood on the shore of Fishers Island, just off the coast of Connecticut and watched ships go out to sea. Two of them caught my attention because one followed the other so precisely. It remained the same distance behind the lead ship. After a few minutes I realized that the second ship was actually a large barge, and the first ship was towing it. The second inevitably followed the first. So it is with the process of the plan of God in Christ. The process seen on the faces of people, and it will fulfill with what we see in Revelation. It is inevitable.
• Isaiah 65:17
We find the removal of the former things elsewhere in the Bible. For example, Isaiah mentions the phrase “new heavens and new earth” again at the end of his visions (Isaiah 65:17). It reads “for behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” The beauty of this statement gives me pause. I think it means that the day will come during our lives in heaven in which we will begin to have trouble remembering the things of this earth. All the hard things; the sorrow, the trouble, the pain of loss and of weakened health. It will be so far behind us that we will forget it. We’ll have so much more to engage us. There’s an old hymn that includes the line “and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
• Application: The importance of fellowship.
One interesting application to this is to take another look at Fellowship Hall. Most churches have large kitchens, large enough to cook for a number of people, and the Fellowship Hall is large enough to fit everyone who might be in the Sanctuary. Fellowship time builds community and often ministry one to another takes place there. But also, Fellowship is a foretaste and a rehearsal of sorts for the great feast of heaven. It foreshadows the nature of heaven and gives us an opportunity to practice. Aside from worship, the greatest occupation of heaven is fellowship with one another and with God, who has desired this from the beginning of time. Some people mischaracterize the Bible as the history of people trying to please a holy and righteous God, but I suspect that the better characterization is that of God pursuing a rebellious humanity in an effort to fellowship with people forever. Fellowship Hall reminds us of that, and one of my dearest hopes once the Pandemic is over is to have lots of pot-luck suppers and a vibrant fellowship time after every worship service.
All Saints’ Day enshrines this, the sure hope of the day and the place where we are all together and pain and suffering is no more. It is a promise that resounds throughout all Scripture, it is seen on the faces of people with new lives. It is practiced in Fellowship Halls, yes, Fellowship Halls in churches all over the world. It is the party at the end of the age, and it will never end.
The Party at the End of the Age