Tuesday, March 29, 2022

"A New Heaven and a New Earth" - Henry Knapp

 A New Heaven and a New Earth 


In my early twenties, I had a severe back problem. Initially, the doctors tried to handle things with physical therapy, medicines, and other noninvasive actions. Unfortunately, over the months, things just got worse and worse—to the point where there was some paralysis in my leg. For almost a full year, I struggled with significant pain, lack of mobility, the inability to sleep well, and the loss of an active lifestyle. Eventually, the only option available was surgery. The doctors warned of the surgical dangers and the difficult recovery process, but we ultimately determined that moving forward with the procedure was the only viable option. One morning in the early fall, a wonderful team of doctors operated on my back, repairing the damage that was present there. And, immediately upon awakening… I felt like a new man! 


Literally. I felt brand-new. For so long I had struggled with the pain and limitations of my back, and the difficulties impacted so much of my life, that coming out of the surgery, I immediately felt such relief, that the only way to describe it was… like I was made new! 


Now, to be clear, there wasn’t really anything “new” about me—save for some stitches and the like. I wasn’t really “new” in the sense that something was present that wasn’t present beforehand. The “new” feeling came rather from the sense of being “re-newed.” After the surgery, I was restored to the way I was intended to be, that the brokenness in my back had limited so much so, that I felt “new” when I was fixed. Again, not that something original came into existence. Rather, what was originally intended was able to be in its fullness again. The “newness” was a “renewed-ness,” a change which resulted in an ability to live life the way I was intended to live. The “old me,” the pain-filled body, was no more—the “new” had come! 


The Bible frequently speaks of “a new Heaven and a new Earth,” and of the old heaven and earth passing away (Revelations 21; 2 Peter 3; Isaiah 65 and 66; Mark 13). In recent centuries this has become in people’s minds, the destruction of what is presently this world, and the total creation from nothing of a brand new reality. This world will be eliminated, and replaced by an entirely other creation. The motive for such a thought is that this world is so saturated with sin, evil, and wickedness, that the only recourse is for God to start all over again—to take His people from this wrecked world, and insert them into a newly fashioned-from-nothing heaven and earth.  


But this view—that the new heaven and new earth is a brand-new creation, that the old is destroyed in such a way as to cease to exist—is hard to square with other Scriptures. In Romans 8, we are told that all creation groans in bondage as it awaits the liberation from sin (vs. 18-25). It is, after all, Satan’s goal to destroy God’s creation. God’s plan is different—not destruction, but liberation, restoration, and redemption. Yes, this world is broken, infected by a dreadful, rebellious sin, a wickedness and evil which is anti-God in every way. But, this describes, not just the world, but you and me as well! And, God’s response to us and our sin? Is it not our destruction, but our restoration - Christ’s own sacrifice destroys sin in every way, but it restores us to our created purpose, God’s original intent for humanity. 


In much the same way, God’s work of bringing about a new creation, a new heaven and new earth, is not so much a “new” one in the sense of new-in-origin, new-in-creation, but rather a “new-ness” in character, a new-ness that reflects the vast transformation that occurs when all sin is gone. The new heaven and new earth that awaits us all at the end of time, is a new-ness that exists because of the finality, the totality, of God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ. What does the new heaven and earth look like? It looks like this world… but so, SO different! This world restored, redeemed, sin-free! That is what awaits us—the world as God intended it to be. 


This week as you prepare for worship, read Revelation 21. 


1. What image stands out the most from this description of the end times? Why does this grab you? 


2. What does it mean for a bride to be prepared for her husband? What is behind that picture? What does the author want us to see about the church here? 


3. What is the dominant feature of this new heaven and new earth? What is most important to the author to stress? 


4. In verse 5, God says He is making all things new. What might this mean if the word “new” is taken as “brand-new, newly created” versus “renewed, restored to original purpose?” 


5. What connections can you see here between the old earth that passes away and the new earth that God brings? 


Monday, March 21, 2022

" What Are We Aiming At?" - Henry Knapp

What Are We Aiming At? 


It was a dirty trick. And, it took me a long time to figure it out. When I was very young and helping my father around the house, he would subtlety shift the goals for me. As I would be finishing up whatever task he had asked me to do, he would ever so carefully extend the project, just enough, to keep me working. It took me a while, but as I grew older, and more aware of his tactics, I realized what he was doing—by ever so slightly shifting the end goal, he could get more work out of me. 


All of us know the importance of having goals in life. Author and historian Bill Copeland captures this well: “The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.” Simply put, if you don’t know what you are shooting at, you’ll never know if you’ve hit it. It would be hard to imagine an area of life where this doesn’t apply: in parenting, sports, vocation, education, performance, marriage, music. And, unsurprisingly, it applies to our Christian lives as well.  


What is the goal of the Christian life? What should we be aiming at? What is our target, our purpose, our end? Imagine how the answers to these questions would subtlety (or drastically) shift your everyday walk with Jesus. Try some answers on and see: What if the goal in life is to be happy? Everything you would do would aim toward maximizing your joy or pleasure. Or, what if the goal is to be a good person? All things are filtered through the lens of moral improvement. Or, if serving others was key? Forget all else, and give yourself wholly and completely to acts of service. Imagine how each of these answers would radically change how you go about living every moment. 


Of course, you could spend a lot of time running up and down the field, and never attain your goal… but that is especially true if you don’t even know what the objective truly is. How do we determine what the right goals are? Who decides what target we should be aiming at? Our families have a powerful influence here. Of course, our culture dictates to us what we should want. One powerful guidance is our own personalities, our likes and dislikes. But, can we speak of the goal of the Christian life with any more definition than that? Well, I think so. Remember who made us? Who redeemed us? Who we now claim as our Lord and Savior. As Creator, Redeemer, Lord, is it surprising that we should look to Him for our purpose in life?  


So, what does God Himself say is our purpose? What would He want for our ultimate goal in life? There are many ways to phrase it—“to know Jesus and be known by Him;” “to dwell in the Presence of the Lord;” “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” There are other ways of describing this, but you get the picture. Our purpose, our goal is Him. And, fixing that goal firmly in mind, not allowing that purpose to drift, will keep us from wandering through life, up and down the field, never scoring.  


Once the goal is firmly in mind, what does it look like to approach the target? On the football field, the team responds differently depending on how far they are from the goal line. When you are deep in your own side of the field, you play differently than when you are nearing the end zone. Where is the “end zone” for the Christian life? Are we aiming for heaven? Is our goal to be rid of this world and in our spirits be with the Lord? Is the fulfillment of life only when we die? The Apostle Paul for one would argue strongly against such thoughts. 1 Corinthians 15 is a majestic overview of Paul’s thoughts here, a great biblical summary of the goal, the end zone for the Christian life, and we’ll be exploring it together this Sunday. 


In preparation for worship this Sunday, read 1 Corinthians 15. 


1. It is easy to imagine that Paul is writing this chapter specifically in response to a set of questions. What do you think some of those questions might be?  


2. Why would such questions be on the minds of the Corinthians? I don’t think you need to know anything about the Corinthian Church to guess at the reasons why these questions are important. 


3. What is the logic of verses 12-19? Paul is pretty relentless here. What does this tell us about the use of logic in the Christian life? 


4. Why would some say there is no resurrection of the dead? Besides the obvious empirical question—why else might one deny the resurrection? 


5. Speculate on why you think this is an important issue for Paul? Why doesn’t he just handle this question—is there a resurrection or not?—in short order? Why elaborate as he does? 

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

"I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins" - Henry Knapp

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Can you ever really have too much of a good thing? I mean, really? Sure, we are always warned against it, but I’m not sure. Take chocolate for example. I know, I know… too much chocolate will spoil my appetite. It could get me all hyper. It could make me sick. But, honestly… It’s chocolate!

But, of course, we all know that in some areas you really can have too much of a good thing. Too much of something special will often ruin it. Too much vacation can numb the mind; too much fun can blind us from reality; too much work can “make Jack a dull boy.” We worry, and rightly so, that too much of something will lessen its impact, it will rob us of what is special. And so we often try to protect the special things by limiting them, not having too much.

Another fear is that there must be a limited supply. No matter how much is available, surely there’s a limit somewhere! There is only so much time, so much fun, so much chocolate. So, we hoard it, we dole it out in smaller portions, so we don’t “overdo it.” Do we think of divine forgiveness the same way?

The forgiveness we receive from Jesus simply cannot be measured. God’s gift of salvation involves a forgiveness of sin that never, ever stops. No matter the vast quantity of need, there is more and more forgiveness available.

But, if we fear “too much of a good thing,” perhaps we seek to limit forgiveness. All the while knowing that with God there is no end, no limit. Perhaps we are worried that forgiveness will eventually run out for us; that God will eventually not give us what we need. Perhaps this helps explain why we are so afraid of forgiveness—afraid to lean too much on the forgiveness we receive from Jesus. Perhaps it is better to only have a little forgiveness at a time?

Nonsense. My friends, God’s grace never ends; there is no limit to His forgiveness, and we dare not seek to limit that which He freely dispenses. Forgiveness is His gift to all who call on His name, who trust in His salvation. When we approach this gift with fear and anxiety, are we not doubting His goodness? When we are afraid that He will withhold His blessings, are we not limiting His forgiveness? But, we need never do this, for His forgiveness never ends!

The forgiveness of sins that is ours by virtue of the cross, the forgiveness that Christ purchased by His blood, should be embraced wholeheartedly by all—there is never too much of this good thing!

This week in preparation for worship, read Psalm 32.

1. The opening lines of a psalm are generally a summary of the entire psalm, and then the “story” begins. How is that evident here in this passage?

2. In verse 3, the psalmist stays “silent.” Silent from whom? What is he saying here? What is the opposite of “silent” in this context?

3. Have you ever experienced the oppression of verse 4? Why does the psalmist feel so poorly, so oppressed?

4. How is verse 5 a remedy for the oppression the psalmist feels in verse 4? What view of forgiveness must you have for this to take place?

5. Back to verse 1… What does it mean to be “blessed?” How might that differ from “happy” or “joyful?”

6. How does the last phrase in verse 1, “whose sin is covered,” connect to the previous phrase, “transgression is forgiven” What does it mean to “cover” a sin?

7. Who is the active agent in these verses? What role does God play? What role does the psalmist play?