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“We look for the city that is to come” by Andrew Wilson

“The fundamental urban contrast in Scripture is not between one earthly city and another but between all earthly cities, whether past, present, or future, and the heavenly city that is to come.

One of the most astonishing things that Jesus ever said, from the perspective of a first-century Jew, was that Jerusalem was going to face the same fate as that of other imperial cities: it would be invaded and destroyed and judged for its evil deeds (Matt. 23:37–24:28).

Forty years after he said that, this is exactly what happened. The Romans razed the temple and set it on fire, and Jerusalem went the way of Babylon, Nineveh, and Tyre.

No city built with human hands, not even the city of David, could put the glory of God on full display.

All cities center on something. In the ancient world the center was usually a temple of the local god. In the modern world the gods are still there, but the temples have changed their appearance; they now look like skyscrapers, government buildings, billboards, or public squares. In some cities the local deity is instantly identifiable, as in Mecca, Moscow, or Manhattan.

In others it is more ambiguous: my city centers on Ares, god of war (from Westminster to Trafalgar Square), Eros, god of sex (from Piccadilly Circus through Soho), and Mammon, god of possessions (from Bank to Bishopsgate).

Wherever you go, the urban god(s) reflect the highest good of the city, which in turn reflects the highest good of the civilization. But there is no city on earth—not Jerusalem, Constantinople, or Rome—that is unequivocally devoted to worshiping the true God, and him alone.

Yet. There will be, though. The apostles were clear about that.

There is a city that Abraham looked for, whose designer and builder is God (Heb. 11:10).

There is a Jerusalem above, who is free, and she is our mother (Gal. 4:26).

There is a heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, filled with worshiping angels and the assembly of the firstborn (Heb. 12:22–23).

There is a new Jerusalem, a city coming down out of heaven from God, like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (Rev. 21:2).

Her gates are made of pearls, her walls of precious stones, her streets are made of pure gold, like glass, and she has a crystal river flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb.

Nothing unclean ever enters her, and her gates are open the whole time. She is an enormous cube, twelve thousand stadia each way, half the size of the United States and reaching to 280 times the height of Mount Everest.

And she is so thoroughly indwelt by the living God that she does not have a temple; she is a temple (Rev. 21:9–22:5). In new Jerusalem all of the evil features of your city and mine are removed.

All of their good features—Sultanahmet, Table Mountain, the Piazza San Pietro, Chinatown, the Louvre, Central Park—are amplified. She is full of art without idolatry, abundance without greed, and peace without injustice.

There is music, wine, laughter, and street food. Old people sit in their porches at dusk, and boys and girls play in the streets (Zech. 8:4–5).

And best of all, she is centered not on an urban park or monument or skyscraper, nor even on a cathedral or temple, but on a throne.

God is in the midst of her, and she shall never be moved.

We look for the city that is to come.”

–Andrew Wilson, God of All Things: Rediscovering the Sacred in an Everyday World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021), 184-186.

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“God is a gardener” by Andrew Wilson

“God is a gardener.

We know this from the second chapter of Scripture. “The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east” (Gen. 2:8), and this garden is complete with trees, fruits, vegetables, flowers, rivers, minerals, onyx, gold, birds, animals, human beings, marriage, sex, life, and the presence of God himself (Gen. 2:9–25).

It is not just lush and idyllic—the Greek word for garden here, paradeisos, gives us our word paradise— but enormous as well, and probably mountainous, given that it serves as the source for four rivers.

It is more like a primeval Yosemite than a vegetable patch or a manicured lawn. By planting a garden, placing humanity in it, and walking alongside them in the cool of the day, God is showing us the connection between his creativity, his love, his abundance (every tree that was pleasant to the eye and good for food, every beast of the field, every living creature, and so on), and above all his presence.

Eden is a place of life, love, and harmony because God lives there. The first garden is a temple, and from now on all temples will be gardens.

That might sound like a stretch, until we study the designs of the tabernacle and the temple in detail (which, since they are lengthy and a bit repetitive, most of us don’t). They are full of garden imagery, pointing us to the verdant, lush, life-giving bounty of the gardener God who lives there.

Consider: the temple is made out of cedar trees, “carved in the form of gourds and open flowers,” and the floor is boarded with cypress (1 Kings 6:15–18).

Like Eden, it is guarded by cherubim, built on a mountain, entered from the east, and adorned with gold and onyx (1 Chron. 29:2). The doors of the sanctuary are made of olivewood, carved with palm trees and flowers in bloom (1 Kings 6:31–32).

The bronze pillars are festooned with hundreds of pomegranates, and “on the tops of the pillars was lily-work” (1 Kings 7:20–22).

The panels are set with livestock (oxen) and wild beasts (lions), and as you walk across the court, you find yourself surrounded by fresh water (1 Kings 7:23–29). There is a tree-shaped lampstand outside the Holy of Holies, and a further ten made of pure gold (1 Kings 7:49).

It would have felt like an orchard, a well-watered garden, a paradeisos. It spoke to Israel: the God of the garden lives here. Welcome.

So gardens are places of abundance and divine presence. But they are also places of romance and love. The first marriage and the first love song took place in a garden (Gen. 2:18–25), and this profound mystery is a picture of the love between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31–32).

Numerous biblical couples get together in garden-like places, under trees or at wells or both.

The Song of Solomon is full of plants, trees, flowers, orchards, fruits, fountains, and gardens, reinforcing the connection between our intimacy with God and our intimacy with one another.

This connection, interestingly, is still reflected today, every time a couple gets married surrounded by carnations, arbors, garlands, lilies, trellises, and petals of confetti.

We design our wedding venues like a garden of love, not least because we first knew love in a garden. Yet the garden is also a place of tragedy.

We do not just remember paradise; we remember paradise lost. Eden was not just the garden of love but the garden of love spurned.

Life was rejected in favor of the knowledge of good and evil, marriage was spoiled, and verdant abundance became thorns and thistles and pain in childbirth.

As human beings, we were meant to take the garden with us, filling the earth with the life and harmony we found there, but instead we were exiled from it, frog-marched out by the eastern exit, with cherubim on guard to prevent us from coming back.

From that day on, we lost our unrestricted access to the presence of God, both in the temple-like garden and in the garden-like temple. We have been pining for it ever since.

The human story has been a long and often disastrous series of attempts to get back to the garden.

It is fitting, then—as well as glorious beyond words—that our access back into the garden, with all the abundance and presence and love that goes with it, was secured in two gardens.

The first, which we know as the garden of Gethsemane, reversed the decision of Eden, replacing Adam’s “not your will but mine” with Christ’s “not my will but yours.”

The second, as Jesus stepped out of the tomb just a couple of days later, reversed the consequences of Eden.

Where Adam brought death to everyone in a garden and then went to hide, Christ brought life to everyone in a garden and then made himself as visible as possible.

This connection may be what John is hinting at when he says that Mary thought Jesus was the gardener (John 20:15). In more ways than one, he was.

The result, as Jesus had said while being crucified, is that those who trust him can be brought back to God. “Today you will be with me in [paradeisos]” (Luke 23:43).

We are welcomed into the abundance and vitality of a new and better Eden.

The cherubim blocking your way have been stood down.

The serpent has been crushed.

The garden of love is open, and the Gardener has been preparing a place for you.

When we finally see it, in the final two chapters of Scripture, we get the most delightful sense of déjà vu—there is a river and a tree and leaves and fruit and gold and onyx and a wedding.

And in the midst of it all is God himself, so bright that there is no need for the sun, and so present that there is no need for a temple (Rev. 21:22–23).

Welcome home.”

–Andrew Wilson, God of All Things: Rediscovering the Sacred in an Everyday World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021), 81-84.

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“The new creation will be dust free” by Andrew Wilson

“A Christian understanding of humanity places a strong emphasis on the image of God, and the essential dignity and grandeur that it confers to all people.

We are kings, priests, ambassadors, rulers, made for a little while lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor (Ps. 8:5), and that has crucial implications for the way we treat one another.

But alongside that (vital) emphasis on dignity, there is also an appropriate humility that comes from remembering that “I . . . am but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27) and that “he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14).

Knowing that we come from the ground keeps us grounded; the Latin word humus, which means “soil” or “earth,” gives us the words humility and human.

And there is such reassurance in knowing that God, in his compassion and fatherly kindness, sees us not only as princes, expected to rule the world, but also as dust and ashes, expected to fail sometimes and cry out for rescue.

As Hannah sang so beautifully, one of his favorite hobbies is lifting people from the dust and ashes—marginal, broken, poor, and needy people like her, and indeed like me—and seating us with the princes (1 Sam. 2:8). We are dust, and to dust we shall return.

We may find it liberating, unsettling, or terrifying, but it is true nonetheless: one day the cells that compose us will be swirling in the autumn leaves, wedged between sofa cushions, and hidden behind radiators. The same is true of all the world’s most powerful and influential people.

As with Ozymandias in Shelley’s famous poem, their apparently invincible empires will finally turn to dust. So will we. But only for a while.

Ultimately, as Daniel saw, “those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). Dry bones in a death valley will be filled with divine breath and raised to life (Ezek. 37:1–12).

In Adam we are all dust people, and we decompose accordingly, but in Christ we then rise to become heavenly people for whom dust and decay, mortality and corruptibility, are things of the past.

Paul, describing the resurrection to people who couldn’t quite believe it, explains that “just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).

Our future, Paul says, will be modeled not on the man who came out of the soil but on the man who came out of the tomb.

So get all your hoovering done now. The new creation will be dust free.”

–Andrew Wilson, God of All Things: Rediscovering the Sacred in an Everyday World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021), 12-13.

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“Except the Lamb” by Andrew Wilson

“Farm animals are substitutes.

They might be sinfully fashioned as replacements for God, like a golden calf or a bull’s head.

They might represent people in worship, like a ram rising as a smoky offering into the presence of God.

They might take the consequences of sins upon themselves, like the two goats on the Day of Atonement.

But they are imperfect substitutes. They cannot measure up to the reality they represent.

They don’t offer themselves willingly; they have to be sacrificed over and over again, day after day, year after year, giving us a regular reminder of how sinful we are; and although they can cleanse us externally and ritually, they cannot cleanse us internally as well, making us perfectly holy and releasing our consciences forever.

For these reasons, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Livestock always fall short.

Except the Lamb.

There is one farm animal who is worshiped not just by a handful of idolatrous Israelites but by every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 7:9–10).

There is one farm animal who offers Himself so willingly, sheds His blood so unreservedly, and ascends to God so permanently that He is able to take billions of people with Him, straight into the presence of God.

There is one farm animal whose substitutionary offering for sin is so perfect that it can save anyone, cleanse the conscience, and last forever.

In Genesis, a ram substituted for one young man (Gen. 22:13).

In Exodus, a lamb substituted for each family (Ex. 12:3).

In Leviticus, a goat substituted for the nation (Leviticus 16).

In the gospel, a Lamb substituted for the entire human race.

‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29)”

–Andrew Wilson, God of All Things: Rediscovering the Sacred in an Everyday World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021), 31-32.

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