‘Renewing All Things’
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .
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Have you ever felt out of your depth? That time when you felt ill-prepared for the board meeting? That occasion when you had a speech that you had to give, you planned it meticulously, but it still didn’t quite come together? When, perhaps, you’ve spent ages and ages on that piece of work and the deadline was approaching, but you didn’t know how to all fit it into that presentation? Rabbi t caught in headlights time. That’s me today.
This “all things” series, I could have a miniseries. Well, in fact, it could be a maxi- series, “all things.” We could talk about everything. We could talk about it forever, almost, partly because, I guess, we’re talking about just one small part of the Bible – the phrase “all things” comes 46 times in the NIV version – but partly because we’re talking about the renewing of all things today. There’s an awful lot of conjecture. There’s an awful lot of navel-gazing and thinking about this one. Different people have got different viewpoints. We all think we know what we’re talking about, and then it gets really confusing when somebody puts in their own opinion that’s different from ours.
I’m going to read Revelation 20:1-5. Actually, it’s 21. See how well prepared I was? Revelation 21:1–5, and I’m using the Good News Bible.
The Bible passage can be read at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+21%3A1-5&version=GNT. It cannot be included here due to copyright restrictions.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if you don’t know what to do next, recap what you’ve already done, summarize the points. So that’s our starting point today as we think about God renewing all things. I’m just going to quickly talk about the things that we talked about over the last two or three weeks, and then, hopefully, we’ll get into something a bit new and something that we can all understand. Over the last few weeks in this miniseries of God doing all things, we’ve been talking about God who creates all things. We’ve been talking about the God who uses saints or things. Then, we’ll get into what I think we mean when the Bible talks about renewing all things.
It starts with Jesus, it’s sustained by Jesus, and Jesus is the very centre of it, so we can get no further than, that’s fine. Ultimately, Jesus is absolutely the beginning, middle, and end of it all. A couple of weeks ago, Andrew reminded us that God created the world. Humans are the pinnacle of creation, and the pinnacle of that creation of humanity is Jesus Christ. Particularly, the crucifixion and the resurrection of this God-man. Andrew explained, “This earth is where the action is that has consequences in heaven.” I’ll come back to that phrase in a minute. “Earth is where the action is that has consequences in heaven.”
We learned that all things were created for Jesus, and through Jesus, and in Jesus all things hold together. Last week, we took a look at how God sustains this creation, our earth, our home, the thing that humanity is named after. We saw that “humans” and the word “humus,” where we get the word “soil,” comes from “human” and “humus.” Humans and soil, we’re created from the earth. We look ed through Psalm 104, how God gives us, made in his image, breath to create and to . That also means the nature. God sometimes takes our breath away. We go, “Woah,” “Wow,” and “Aaah.” We looked at the joy that God had in creating, sustaining, and playing on the earth.
Even this day, He has created it to enjoy with us because that’s who Jesus is, God with us, Emmanuel. Again, earth is where the action is that has consequences in heaven. Psalm 104 says, “God creates anew.” He recreates. This is our starting point for today. Last week, we took a moment to look at the fun that God had playing with the Leviathan in Psalm 104. Do you remember that? Psalm 104:26 talks about the Leviathan, the mythical sea creature that frolics in the sea, and that God enjoys it. It reminds us that God, actually, loves being with His creation, and sometimes, it’s made just for the joy of God because re-creation and recreation are the same thing. They both involve play, fun, holiday, rest, getting away from the norm. Recreation is really re-creation.
When we get back from our time away, sometimes, we say, “I needed that holiday,” because in that time when we take it slow, we refresh ourselves. Holidays are times when we renew our energies. We have recreation time where we do what pleases us, and there is something that relaxes us, we enjoy those times. I think that’s actually the business of heaven. As we laugh with animals playing, we realize that, perhaps, in the same way, God loves to play freely with us, His creation, in His presence. If we see recreation as play, as being re-created, as taking time to renew ourselves, then we become fully human.
As humans, we need time to rest, we need to sleep, we need things to do that we enjoy, and so, recreation time is important. I wonder whether we see it that way when we look at the Bible and see that God is renewing the world, perhaps, in that world because, for me, that’s not the way that I learned how God loves His creation. I grew up being taught that God made the world, and that it became sinful and grubby , and that humans messed it up. I’m not disagreeing with that. So God had to send His son into the world to make it better, then God’s son would forgive my sin when he was put to death on the cross.
I learned that Jesus rose from the dead, and then went back to heaven promising to come again for those who believe in Him. I grew up in church learning that I would go to heaven to be with Jesus, either when I die or at the end of time, at the end of the world when God would renew all things. I had this Christian package which, I guess, many of us who had been brought up in the church appreciate and know. When Christians talk about the restoration of all things or the renewing of all things, it’s usually spoken about as a future activity. They talk about it in the context of the “end times.”
The bit of world history that’s not yet happened, probably, that is horrible before Jesus returns in glory to take His faithful back with Him to heaven. The don’t talk about re-creation and renewing in the way that Psalm 104 talks about it: a present daily activity that God is intimately involved in. I think, in some way, I grew up believing that God is involved, maybe, in the periphery of the world, working out the world today. Still making the sun rise each day, still doing the things that make life happen, but just, in a way, leaving it to roll out the clock until He decides to come back again and fix it or destroy it, depending on your view.
What happens if there is another way of looking at renewing and recreating that God get involves in every part, in every part of life and history? What if there was a God who wanted to be involved in the minutiae of everything that He created? What, then? Instead of coming up with a doomsday scenario for the end of the world which, generally, what Christian life I was brought up believing and knowing. What happens if we read, perhaps, Daniel or Revelation in looking at, somehow, God renewing and re-creating, what happens if God’s intention for the universe was for Him never to be away from it rather than Him being up in heaven, wherever that is, for Him to be with his creation?
What if we looked at the Bible or the bits of the Bible that we know God’s intimacy with His creation? For example, in Genesis 3, when we read, in the cool of the day, God walks in the Garden of Eden, looking out for Adam and Eve.” Seeking out His highest created beings, Adam and Eve, and He calls out, “Where are you?” “Where are you?” What if earth was where God wanted to be? What if God wanted to be with His chosen people? Instead of holding Himself up in a temple behind a curtain or the Ark of the Covenant in a box, that He should show His presence through a pillar of cloud in the day time and a pillar of fire by night?
What if God wanted to show Himself for a time by using only prophets and kings to show the people of Israel? Because that’s the kind of God that we see in the Old Testament. We see Him time and time again trying to get close to His people, and time and time again, they turn away. They get into trouble, then they turn back to God, and God’s wrath subsides because He really doesn’t want to judge them to a pessimistic future without Him. Suppose that God’s ultimate plan was always to be with His people? Suppose that God, the Creator, wanted to be with His creation? Suppose that God sent His Son to help re-create it? Suppose we understood that destination earth was always a plan?
What if God sent His Son to be on earth? To become human? To become humus, like soil? What if God, to use a theological term, sent His Son to be incarnate, to be made flesh and blood? To be Adamah, to be part of mankind? What if Father God made His Son dwell among us , as John 1 says? What if Father God pitched His tent on the ground because that’s what John 1:14 says, “He pitched His tent among us."? What if He sent His Son to live amongst us in the physical person of Jesus? What if God showed us how to live on earth as it is in heaven through the example of His Son, Jesus? What, then? How would that change the earth , its Creator and Sustainer now come to earth? Emmanuel, God with us.
Why would God push to end it in catastrophe? Surely, He would rather make it new again and not start all over. We see this in the tale of Noah’s ark , for example. God has always been with His people. God rescues His people, and that’s the over arching message of the Bible. The action has always been on earth. God’s rescue plan comes in the shape of a person, the one whose name means “God with us.” His name is Jesus Christ, and this Jesus Christ tells us that He doesn’t know the day or the hour when His Father will call an end to all things because, actually, it seems to me that Jesus is concerned with things like re-creation or even things like recreation.
When we look into the life of Jesus in the New Testament, it seems to me that He is also concerned with rest and recreation. He says things like, “Come to me if you’re burdened and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This is the same Jesus who gets into trouble for mixing with drunkards and tax collectors and sinners, and who is seen enjoying life, relaxing with the wrong crowd. The Jesus who seems more interested in people than keeping to the Letter of the Law. He heals people on the Sabbath. He listens to people’s problems. He goes to their home for tea. He has compassion when they want to listen to Him, but they’re too hungry, and so, He provides them with a meal.
Jesus, this Emmanuel, this God with us, seems to me, sees that rest and recreation are present realities, that these things are actually important. The daily, earthly, worldly, universal cycle of death and rebirth; sleep, work, rest, play. What if God was more concerned with present realities than He was with what was yet to come, hints of only which is far from you? When we look at the example of Jesus in the gospels, He meets people’s earthly and spiritual needs usually together. There is something uniting about His ability to do that.
He knew about their present realities, and with that in mind, I wonder whether , when we look at the renewing of all things, perhaps, it’s not all that stuff that happened at the end of time when the world is doomed before Jesus makes a glorious appearing. Maybe there’s something about God being deeply involved within His creation here and now as well. In preparation for this message, I looked at the only time, I think when Jesus talked about the renewing of all things – when Jesus talks about the renewing of all things. I think it’s in Matthew 19:28, renewing and restoring in the gospels, I think are interchangeable words.
They mean things like spiritual rebirth, regeneration, and new nature, and it seems to be on a very personal level. To me, they feel like eternal life, I guess. These are the words which mean “to restore again,” “to place down permanently,” “to designate.” These words are also words which have different meanings, and so, I find it hard to define precisely what Jesus is exactly talking about when He speaks about the renewal of all things because in different translations of the Bible, they are interpreted so differently. Hope we still find the theme.
In Matthew 19: 28. I looked at several different versions of the scripture just to see what they all said. It confuses things because one translation says, “the new world,” another says, “the renewal of all things,” “the new age,” “the regeneration,” “heavenly splendour.” The new world but no regeneration when the world is made new in the recreation of the world. A big fat book called Strong’s Concordance doesn’t talk about renewal in particular ways. It talks about it in, perhaps, mending or completely refurnish , which, to me, makes me think, “Maybe it’s not sweeping away of old things and the brand-newness and stuff.” There are echoes of what was before.
Where do we go from here? Let’s link up the Old Testament and the New Testament with a chap called Tom Wright. I’m very grateful to Martin and Margaret for loaning me various books from Tom Wright. He was an Anglican bishop, and he’s now a professor of New Testament theology and various other important things somewhere. He’s got a brilliant brain. I would certainly recommend a book called Simply Christian and another one called Surprised by Hope. Martin and Margaret, I’m sure, would be happy to loan them out, but I may well get my own copy.
Let’s see what Tom Wright says to try to summarize all of what God has been up to and continues to do in the renewing of all things. It’s wrapped up in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the one in whom all things hold together. In this Simply Christian book, he writes this of Jesus:
God’s plan to rescue the world from evil would be put into effect by evil doing its worst to the Servant, to Jesus himself, and thereby exhausting his power.…
His death would do what the Temple, with its sacrificial system, had pointed towards but had never actually accomplished. In meeting the fate which was rushing towards him, he would be the place where heaven and earth met, as he hung suspended between the two. He would be the place where God’s future arrived in the present, with the kingdom of God celebrating its triumph over the kingdoms of the world by refusing to join in the spiral of violence. He would love his enemies. He would turn the other cheek. He would go the second mile.…
Following the resurrection,
… Jesus really did reappear … as a living, bodily, human being. But the body was somehow different.… Jesus’ risen body had many of the same properties as an ordinary body (it could talk, [it could] eat and [it could] drink, [it could] be touched, and so on), but it had others too. It could appear and disappear, and pass through locked doors.
His body seems to have been transformed in a way for which there was neither precedent nor [no] prophecy and for which there remains no second example [– Echoes of what was before].
… many Christians have seized Jesus’s resurrection as the sign that there really is ‘life after death’. [Tom Wright says.] “This just confuses things. Resurrection is not a fanciful way of saying ‘go into heaven when you die.’ It’s not about ‘life after death’ as such,” [He says,] “It is rather, quite straightforwardly, a way of talking about being bodily alive again after a period of being bodily dead. Resurrection is [what he calls] a second-stage post-mortem life; life after ‘life after death.’
I’m not too sure I quite understand that either. If Jesus’ resurrection ‘proves’ anything about what happens when people die, it is this: There are echoes left of what was before. There is life. “… interestingly,” he says, “none of the resurrection stories in the gospels or Acts speak of the event proving that some kind of afterlife exists.” I’ve never thought about that before.
They all say instead: ‘if Jesus has been raised, that means the God’s new world, God’s kingdom, has indeed arrived; and that means we have a job to do.’ … When Jesus rose, God’s whole new creation emerged from the tomb, introducing a world full of new potential and possibility. Indeed, precisely because part of that new possibility is for human beings themselves to be revived and renewed, the resurrection of Jesus does not leave us as passive, helpless spectators. We find ourselves lifted up, set on our feet, given new breath in our lungs, and commissioned to go and make new creation happen in the world.
The early disciples saw this. They saw it and they got on with it. When Jesus emerged from the tomb, justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty emerged with him. Something has happened in and through Jesus as a result of which the world is a different place, a place where heaven and earth have been joined forever. God’s future has arrived in the present.…
Christianity is all about the belief that the living God … has accomplished all of this – the finding, the saving, the giving of new life – in Jesus. He has done it. With Jesus, God’s rescue operation [plan] has been put into operation once and for all. … We are … invited – summoned actually – [says Tom Wright,] to discover, through following Jesus, that His new world is indeed a place of justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty, and that we are not only to enjoy it as such, but to work at bringing it to earth, on earth as in heaven.
There are loads of things which I don’t quite get in Jesus’ renewing all things. I still know that throughout our morning together, so far, there are lots and lots of loose ends which are still loose, which I don’t quite get how God is going to do all the stuff that I learned when I was a child, and now I’m wondering whether I should unlearn some bits and pieces of it or whether the stuff that I learned when I was a child still rings true. I think that with what Tom Wright talks about here is that there’s this coming together, somehow, of heaven and on earth, joined forever. Whilst we are here, we trust, we follow Jesus today, and we trust him for the future.
Lord God, I pray for us as we try to unpick something really, really difficult. I pray that you would help us to know that our eternity is safe with you. Would you please help us? Whatever we know or believe or have been taught about you renewing all things, that you would put deep into our hearts the peace that transcends on all understanding, that you would, please, help us to know afresh that you are “God with us.” If we have disagreements about what we believe, thank you that your word is strong enough and that, God, you are big enough to undertake for those things.
Would you please forgive me if I’ve done anything or said anything that is totally against your word? But, Father God, would you please enable us to think, perhaps, there’s another way of looking at your word, too. Would you help us as we live together in Christian unity? Would you help us as we learn together, to read your word, to understand it, and to love it afresh? We pray all of these things in the name of Jesus, Amen.
There’s only one song, one hymn that I think can follow all we’ve been talking about today. It’s number 377 in the green book, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.
This talk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Quotations from Tom Wright are from the reissue of Simply Christian by Tom Wright, published in the UK by SPCK in 2011. Simply Christian is copyright © Nicholas Thomas Wright, 2006.