In Numbers, there is a strange story from the life of Moses. As the people of God were suffering without water in the wilderness, the Lord told Moses to gather Israel together and speak to a rock so that it would pour out water (20:8). In response, Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, gathered Israel together, spoke, struck the rock twice with his staff, and water gushed out (20:9-11) Unfortunately, Moses did not do exactly what God commanded and failed to give proper credit to God, so the LORD would not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land (20:12).
This is a story that ought to have meaning to all Christians—and it should also hold some hope for all of us as well. All human beings make errors and do not fully follow God’s will. It is only fitting, then, that we should not enter the Promised Land, so to speak, in this life. Nevertheless, before Moses died, God took him up to a high place and showed him the Promised Land (Deut. 34:1; Num. 27:12-13). I am sure that Moses thought it was enough to just see the Promised Land before he died. There is a Promised Land for every church and every group of Christians. No one Christian or pastor enters the fullness of that Promised Land. We only experience some of it and glimpse the remainder from afar. It is enough, however, for each of us to see a bit of it and enter a bit of it with a congregation.
Kathy and I are happy to have had almost eighteen great years with Advent Presbyterian Church in Cordova, Tennessee. Advent has been our Promised Land in ministry. We have seen a good bit of the Promised Land of our congregation, but now another Promised Land beckons for us and for our congregation. We are leaving to begin a new life and ministry, but the Promised Land for Advent lies ahead. We cannot enter it. We can only glimpse it from afar. Yet, I believe that Advent’s best years are yet to come. This is not just true of Advent, but of every congregation and every group of Christians: None of us are worthy of seeing the Promised Land in full, but God by his mercy and grace gives us glimpses of a reality that awaits the final consummation of all things.
The Vision of St. John.
In this blog, we are looking at the final chapters of Revelation. We began this year with a new theme, “A New Creation.”  In Isaiah, God promises that he will create a New Heaven and a New Earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). At the end of Revelation, John has a vision of the New Heaven and New Earth Isaiah foretold coming down from Heaven (21:1). Paul tells us that Christians are new Creations in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). We are not alone. God intends for the universe, Heaven and Earth, to be recreated. In part, this New Heaven and New Earth is created by God as the Bride of Christ, the Church, descends from Heaven to make all things new. let’s read a bit of this promise:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5).
Finally, let us read a bit from Revelation 22:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (22:1-2).
Eternal, All-Wise and All-Loving God: We come to you asking that you come today to confirm our past and open to us our future as we anticipate the coming of your Kingdom into our lives, our church, our community and our nation. Amen.
The Vision of a New Creation.
As John ends Revelation, he communicates to his readers a final series of visions in which we receive a glimpse of the final consummation of the victory of Christ over sin, Satan, evil, and death. In the first vision, John sees the Holy City of Jerusalem descending from heaven like a bride dressed for her husband. In the second vision, John sees a vision of a River of Life flowing from the Temple of God into the world in which grows a restored Tree of Life. This River energizes the Tree of Life, creating new life, bearing fruit, and healing the brokenness of the world. 
To understand these visions and their implications, we need to remember the condition of the church in the time Revelation was written and why John wrote the book in the first place. The church of Revelation was a church under siege. The secular leaders of the day were persecuting the Church. The government of Rome wanted to be supreme, the lord over every aspect of people’s lives. To do this, Rome desired to eliminate all voices that would not recognize the supremacy of its power and the divinity of its emperor. Christians worshiped Christ as Lord of the Church, which was the earthly presence Kingdom of God, superior to all earthly kings and kingdoms. Christians would not worship Caesar because it would have caused them to worship a creature and not the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth.
When times are tough, there is always a temptation to compromise. If hard times go on long enough, there is always a temptation to desert the true faith. By the time of Revelation, there was only one of the original Twelve left—John. In this book, John wanted to encourage the disciples of Asia Minor and assure them that God was in control and that God would be victorious in the end. As Billy Graham memorably puts it, “I have read the end of the story and God wins!”
The book of Revelation ends with the assurance that God will be victorious over all the powers and principalities that seek to destroy the testimony of Christ and the Church. John wants the churches of Asia Minor, and us, to know that God intends to defeat the powers of evil and build his Kingdom in the world. Surprisingly, it turns out, God intends to so this by the power of the Holy Spirit through us—the members of the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Church!
In the first vision, John sees a Heavenly City descending from heaven. This city is described in two ways: First, it is described as a beautiful, completely symmetrical, jewel encrusted city with streets of gold (21:10-21). Second, in the first vision John describes the Heavenly City as a lovely bride (21:2, 9).
We often think of the Heavenly City as a symbol for Heaven or a restored city at the end of time. The metaphor of a bride should bcorrect our thinking. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and this means that the Heavenly City is best understood as the Church coming down from heaven.  This has practical implications for us. Each of us is a citizen of the Heavenly City and a part of the Bride of Christ. This is not just for pastors or religious professionals. We are all a part of the Bride of Christ. The New Heaven and New Earth is coming down in and through us!
Not so long ago, I had a chance to do my last little bit of premarital counseling. Let me tell you that the bride was excited about the wedding to come! She was excited about the details and excited about her groom. Her life was about to change in unknown and unknowable ways, but that did not limit her excitement. She was looking forward to the future, and so should we who are the Bride of Christ. We don’t know what is next for Advent, for our family, or for the Body of Christ in the world, but we do know it will be good in the end!!
The Means of the New Creation: The Holy Spirit of God.
In the second vision, John gives us another glimpse of the Heavenly City. When Revelation 22 opens, John has already disclosed to us that there is no Sun, Moon, or Temple in the Heavenly City. God is present in the Heavenly City, and His Divine Light renders all other lights unnecessary.In other words, the Heavenly City is where God dwells in the midst of the hearts of his people, another indication that the Church is the Heavenly City.
Down the center of the Great Street of the Heavenly City, there flows a great River of Life, and beside that river stands the Tree of Life bearing twelve crops of fruit every month, twelve times a year.  In the ancient world, it was common to have a “Great Street” in the center of major cities.  This great street was often the center of life and commerce.  There was such a street in Jerusalem. Today it has been restored as a shopping area.
In Revelation, the Heavenly City has a Great Street. The Great Street of the Heavenly City is however, unique. The Great Street of the Heavenly City has a Great River flowing from the Throne of God into the city.  The Great River is the Holy Spirit flowing from the throne of God.
This River irrigates the land along its banks so that the Tree of Life grows along both sides of its banks. This tree of life bears twelve crops twelve times each year.
This image can be confusing. We think of trees growing on both sides of the banks of a river. This Tree of Life is one tree growing on both sides of the city. How can this be? Our Presbytery sponsors what is known as the “Aspen Church Planting Network.” When Eugene Scott, its leader, explained to our Session the image of the Aspen tree, he reminded us that Aspen trees grow by the extension of roots systems from one part of the tree to another sprouting of new life. An entire Aspen Grove is one living organism. 
As we have mentioned before in our study of Revelation, the number twelve is extremely important. It normally refers to the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Twelve Apostles. It is often used as a symbol for the people of God. The symbol even appears as a doubling of the number, for the continuity of Old Testament Israel with the Church of the New Testament
The Heavenly City in John’s vision has twelve gates and twelve foundations (21:12, 14). The Twelve Foundations are explicitly identified as the Twelve Apostles. This is another indication that the Church is the Heavenly City, for it is built upon the testimony of the Twelve Apostles.  The Twelve Crops each of Twelve Months is the fruit of the Testimony of the Apostles, i.e. the church through the ages is one Church that must be faithful the testimony of the Apostles to the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ, who is the Groom of the Bride of Christ.
Like an Aspen Grove, the Church of Christ is one living organism nurtured and fed by the Holy Spirit which flows through the life of the People of God. This tells us how important prayer is to our Christian life, to our church, and to the Church of Christ throughout the world. Prayer is the means through which the Word of God in Christ and in Scripture becomes real to us and energizes us to live the Christian life. We cannot live—the Church of Christ cannot live—without the River of Life that the Spirit is for us.
Our Role in the New Creation.
Finally, in John’s vision the Tree of Life produces fruit, twelve crops each month, and the leaves of the Tree of Life are for the healing of the nations (222-3). You may remember that, in Genesis, humankind was cast out of the Garden of Eden and a flaming sword barred their way back into the Garden for fear that, having misused the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, humanity would misuse the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:23-24). Sin as one of its consequences doomed humanity to physical and spiritual death, cut off from God and from its intended fellowship with God. Now, in the restored City of God, the Tree of Life is back. Humanity is restored to its intended eternal fellowship with God. Because of what Christ did on the cross, we have a way back into fellowship with God, with others, and with creation.
In Revelation, the Tree of Life is bearing fruit and its leaves are for the healing of the nations. If the Heavenly City is the Church built upon the foundations of the testimony of the Apostles, if the River is the Holy Spirit, what is the fruit? The fruit is the fruit of the Gospel—people converted lives changed, sins forgiven, and characters healed. We are the fruit of the Tree of Life and those we bring to Christ are also fruit of the Tree of Life.
We Christians are often not grateful enough for what God has done for us in Christ and through the intercession of other Christians. We receive the love of God through Jesus Christ, but we often do not share that love and allow that love to heal us, our relationships, and our society.
This is where I would like to leave us today: It has been a privilege to be a Presbyterian minister for the past almost quarter of a century. It has been a privilege to serve the Bride of Christ, to counsel, teach, and share the Gospel with people. This past two years, Kathy and I have deliberately tried to create a way to disciple others so that there will be more fruit of the Tree of Life at Advent, in Cordova, in Arlington, and in our city and area, even to the ends of the earth as our lives and the lives of other people touch other lives for Christ.
The future we are all walking into will not be like the past. There will be new leadership, new ideas, new programs, new ministries and missions. This is as it should be. Nevertheless, some things will not change. Christians still be fruit of the Tree of Life, a restored part of God’s creation. We will still be leaves on God’s tree, part of the City of God, which he has placed here to heal a broken world. We will still be subject to the Great Commission Christ gave his Church before he ascended to Heaven, from which he will come again—indeed I believe he is coming in the person of his Church when it loves a fallen and needy world.
Next week, I intend to begin a new series in this blog. I am writing a book on discipleship that is a companion to Salt & Light, the discipling curriculum that Kathy and I have written and which is soon to be published by Innovo Press. I hope to share a draft, chapter by chapter, for the next twenty weeks or so. Please comment upon these new posts, as they involve the next project we hope to complete as Kathy and I enter a new phase of life!!!
Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 See, G. Christopher Scruggs, Becoming a Radical New Me! (preached January 8, 2017 at Advent Presbyterian Church, Cordova, TN).
 As is often the case, I cannot possibly cite in this brief blog all the sources to which I owe a debt of gratitude. I am especially grateful to have read from Eugene Peterson, Reverse Thunder (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1988), Robert Mounce, “The Book of Revelation” in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), Leon Morris, “Revelation” Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983, and William Barclay, “The Revelation of John: Part 2” in the Daily Bible Study Series Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1976).
 The Old and New Testaments are filled with allusions to the people of God as a bride. See, Hosea 2:19; Isaiah 54:3; Jereemiah31, 14, 32. In the New Testament the same simile is used for the people of God (Matthew9:15, 25:1-13; John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:21-33; Rev. 19:7, 21:2; 22:17). The symbol of the Heavenly City/Bride should be a symbol of the people of God in an intimate relationship with their Groom/God.
 This is another image pregnant with references to the Biblical witness to God and to Christ. Jesus told the woman at the well that there would come a time when people would not need to go to Jerusalem to worship for people would worship God “in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:21-24). There is no need for a Temple in the Heavenly City because God is now being worshiped in Spirit and in Truth. The Water of the River of Life flowing through the Heavenly City is the Holy Spirit of God, God’s own presence with and in the people of God.
 Roman planning fully integrated urban defenses with the city plan and the street system. The walls and the streets were laid out concurrently as part of the coordinated planning of the city. The main streets led directly from the center of town to the gates, and the ‘pomerial’ road ran around the city immediately inside the walls. http://historylink101.com/lessons/farm-city/roman-city.htm (downloaded March 15, 2017).
 The last time I was in Israel, we visited a now underground shopping area that once was a Great Street, the center of Jerusalem during a portion of the Roman occupation. After the Jewish quarter was destroyed in the war, archaeologists excavated a huge area and found the Roman cardo – or colonnaded Main Street. They have left some as an excavation with shops up above, some had been reconstructed and some is a plaza open to the sky. Interestingly, today this street is still a center of the tourist trade and very active. Even today, we speak of “Main Street USA,” a metaphor for the businesses that line the main streets of towns and cities all over our nation.
 This river is like a river visualized by the Prophet Ezekiel, a river flowing from the Temple of God into the Israel (Ezekiel 47:1-12). Like the heavenly city, this river through the restored Jerusalem into the world and crops grow beside the river for the healing of the nations.
  See, Meghan Bartels, “This Looks Like a Forest, But It’s Actually Just One Tree—and It’s One of the oldest and Largest Organisms on Earth” Business Insider (July 8, 2016, downloaded March 16, 2017), at www.businessinsider.com.
 This is one reason that Orthodox, Roman, and other Episcopal church groups choose leadership by apostolic succession through ordination by Bishops. Apostolic succession from the twelve original apostles to the church today is guaranteed by the laying on of hands in succession from the original Twelve. Prayer is the means through which the Word of the Gospel in Christ and Scripture becomes real to us and energizes us to live the Christian life. This is a major point Calvin makes in his Institutes: The word of God becomes real to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. See, John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Vol. 1 ed. John T. McNeil, tr. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press), 1.7.4.