Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Heavenly City

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant . . . (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Here the author of Hebrews states, in no uncertain terms, that his readers have already come to “the heavenly Jerusalem.” The heavenly city isn’t something awaiting us after death, or in the far-off future; it’s a present reality. The writer’s emphasis is similar to John’s vision at the end of the Revelation: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God . . .” (Revelation 21:2). As John sees it, the heavenly city isn’t someplace we’ll go off to where, one day, we’ll meet God. The city comes to us “out of heaven from God,” and we live in it here on earth.

How can this be? Our life in this world often seems anything but “heavenly,” so it appears ludicrous to claim that the heavenly city is already here. Of course, we can apply the concept to entering the Lord’s presence in Christian worship. Hebrews refers to a festal, or joyful, gathering and speaks of the assembly of those who, through membership in Christ, are among the “firstborn” of God’s new creation (see Colossians 1:15). And John describes the city as the place where “the dwelling of God is with men” (Revelation 21:3), and states that its temple or central focus is “the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (22:22). Paul makes it clear that our entire renewed life, as followers of Christ, is our “spiritual worship,” so there is a sense in which every faithful Christian is experiencing the life of the city that comes from God.

But there is more to this “heavenly city” than the overtly spiritual dimension we typically recognize. Is there a way to understand the city of God as encompassing all healthy and constructive aspects of our present life, as well as the life to come? God has created all features of our physical environment and called them “good” (Genesis 1). Therefore, we see His providential activity and wise governance across the wide spectrum of our daily experience.

Turn the ignition key of your car, and realize that God made the raw materials out of which your vehicle was fashioned. He ordered the elements of the universe so that fuel and oxygen would combine to produce the energy to propel it. He created the human mind with the intelligence and skill to design and build your car and the roads on which you drive. You live in the heavenly city.

Slip into the voting booth and exercise your ability to discern what is right for your community and nation, and what is wrong. God gave His Word to guide us, so we can differentiate between them. He gave the vision to our nation’s founders, who believed that our Creator endowed us with certain unalienable rights including the liberties we enjoy. Be thankful you live in the heavenly city.

Contemplate your children, share tender moments with your spouse, enjoy the excitement of a youthful romance. God made us male and female in His image, establishing that intimate relationship that is the basis for the family and all human community, and the means of perpetuating the human race. The exercise of our distinctive role as a man or woman is evidence that we live in the heavenly city.

Boot up your computer, or use your digital camera. When God said, “Let there be light,” and divided light from darkness, He established the principle of information: the difference between one thing and another, between off and on. He created that digital difference upon which so much of our technology depends in this heavenly city.

In every facet of our lives we detect the work of God’s governing hand, ruling over His new Jerusalem. As Paul says, doubters have no excuse because His power and authority are “clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). The heavenly city is here because God is here, working out His purpose for us in all these things and calling us into His living presence to worship Him through Jesus His Son.