All of us have at least three faces. There is the face we wear in public, the one our coworkers or fellow worshipers see. Beneath that outer face is the one we wear at home, around our spouse and children, or perhaps close friends. And deeper still is a third face, the naked face, when we are alone, when no one sees us except God.
On these three faces we allow varying degrees of emotion to show. Cindy’s coworkers see her as a no-nonsense, hard-working boss; her husband sees her as a stressed-to-the-max, workaholic wife; God alone sees her curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor, crying her eyes out late one night, wanting to end the life she has grown to despise.
Different faces, different revelations of the storms that roar within the chambers of our souls.
The fiercer the storm, the harder it becomes to keep our public face from disclosing what's going on inside us. We are yanked out by the waves, blown this way by divorces or break-ups, that way by sickness, still other ways by skinny bank accounts and obese bills. And any moment, we expect to be sucked beneath the black, raging waters. At times, we may even welcome that. At least then the pain would be over.
Three different faces, many different storms, and one God. Where is he in the midst of all this? Is he only a fair weather Lord?
He is speaking. But he says something which makes no sense when we first hear it. It’s strange, like God’s an old man who’s fallen of his rocker. What he says is this: that in the new heavens and new earth, when all will be made right again—including us—there will no longer be any sea (Revelation 21:1).
That’s right, no longer any sea. Wait, what? Be patient. Read on.
You may think of the sea as a place of tranquility, postcard sunsets, and soothing waves lapping the beach. Not so in the biblical imagination. There, the waters of the sea are a place of danger, judgement, confusion, evil, and death.
Some examples. In the flood of Noah’s day, the seas became the watery grave of virtually all humanity. After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, those same waters zipped over the Egyptians like a liquid bodybag. When Jonah fled from God by boarding a ship, “the LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up,” (Jonah 1:4). The Psalms liken the threats of the enemy to the “roaring of the seas and the roaring of their waves,” (65:2). When the disciples are caught in a storm, the waves of the sea betoken impending death (Matthew 8:23-27). And “the roaring of the sea and the waves” are one of the signs of the second coming of Christ (Luke 21:25).
@@In the Bible, the sea is bad news. A liquid world strung out on the meth of evil.@@
What we need is a new world where God “shall wipe away every tear from [our] eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain,” (Revelation 21:4). And that’s what we’ll get. As John says, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea,” (21:1). No longer any sea. No longer a world gone wrong, only a world made right by Christ who is “making all things new,” (21:5).
That’s all well and good, you might be thinking, but what about now? What about me and my loved ones who are enduring the storms of life now? We’re buffeted by waves of sorrow; swept out to sea by job loss, cancer, and the million other heartaches of this life. What about those of us who are drowning in our own seas of suffering?
The good news is that the same Christ who promises no more turbulent waters in the new creation, already delivers that new creation into your life now. And he does so in a radically God-way, in an unexpected, ironic way. He does it through water.
Jesus plunges the old you beneath the waters of baptism and pulls a new you free from those waters. In those waters you die in a big way, for you die to all that separated you from God. And you live in an even bigger way, for you are now truly alive in the one who died and rose again, who kicked death in the teeth, who stripped the tomb of its power to hold him and you.
He claims you as his own in the sea of baptism. He washes you into his own body. @@When you’re drowning, Jesus isn't a coach who stands on the shore shouting swimming instructions.@@ He is the Savior who sticks beside you, who holds your head above water, who swims you to shore. He doesn’t tell you, "Suck it up. You got this." God doesn't want you merely to weather the storms of life. He puts his life inside you, he puts you inside him, and there you are safe, no matter what happens.
All of us have at least three faces. But we have a God with one: the face of Jesus Christ. Whether our faces are calm or creased with doubt; dry or soaked with tears; his remains the same. It’s the face of the one who faced all evil and overcame it. The face of the one who looks at us as those whom he loves and always will.
It is that face that we will see, with our own eyes, in the new heavens and new earth. It is that face that sees us now, that will never turn us away, that abides with us in the roaring seas of this life.
And he promises a day when the river of the water of life, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb in the Jerusalem above, will be the only water we need.