Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Snare Has Been Broken

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Praise be to the LORD,
    who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird from the fowler's snare;
    the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the LORD,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.
(Psalm 124:6-8)
We have escaped, been set free. The snare that held us in bondage has been broken. We need no longer remain there.

It happened at the cross, this escape, almost two thousand years ago. Jesus went up against the principalities and powers, the rulers and authorities. He went up against the works of the devil, all the power sin could muster against him. He went up against death. These all nailed him to the tree and rejoiced against him there.

But they did not understand, or else they would never have crucified the Lord of glory. Their imagined victory was actually their demise. For at the cross, the power of God’s self-emptying love, revealed in Christ, broke the snare and shattered the chains that held the world so tightly bound.

The cross of Christ disarmed the principalities and powers, destroyed the works of the devil, and broke the power of him who held the power of death, that is, the devil. By his death, Christ demolished even the power of death itself, for it is impossible that death could ever hold the Lord of life.

At the cross of Christ, the forgiveness of God was fully revealed. As the apostle Paul says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

All those old chains no longer hold us, no longer have any power or authority over us. We have been set free. Let us therefore count ourselves dead to these things, and them to us. Let us, as Paul says, reckon ourselves dead to sin but alive to God. For we have died with Christ at the cross that we may walk in the power of his resurrection. “For as in Adam all died, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Friends, hear and believe the good news of the gospel. In Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven and we have been made alive to God. The snare has been broken and we have escaped. Come walk in this new life.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Random Thoughts

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Thoughts culled from my random file, gathered from my Twitter tweets, Facebook updates and Instagrams. About faith, divine love, the kingdom of God and new life in Christ. Some have come to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Offered as “jump starts” for your faith.
  • We do not overcome evil with evil — not even with the lesser of two evils. We overcome evil with good.
  • Do good and leave the results to God who knows how to redeem every situation.
  • The will of God for you and me, in one word: Love — to love and be loved.
  • God is love. The will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven is nothing else but the manifestation of love.
  • Jesus knew how to multiply five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand. He knows how to multiply His body and his blood to feed His people.
  • Wherever the will of God is done on earth as in heaven, there we find the kingdom of God. And there heaven and earth have become one.
  • The glory of God is not found in the will to power but in the will to love. The greatness of God is not found in the ability to take but in the ability to pour Himself out for love.
  • What counts, the apostle Paul said, is faith expressing itself through love. God is love, and faith in God looks like love.
  • Christ did not come to hold us accountable for sin but to set us free from the bondage of sin.
  • Love is unconditional, not co-dependent. Or controlling.
  • The gospel is not a sin management program.
  • The cross was not a management tool for God’s anger issues — and Jesus was not being co-dependent.
  • We are not defined by our faithfulness to God but by God’s faithfulness to us.
  • Father, Son and Holy Spirit, lead us all into the eternal bliss of Your divine fellowship. Amen.
  • We are holy not because of what we do or don’t do but because of whose we are.
  • I desire no other reason for doing good then that God is love and Jesus is Lord.
  • Christ became a human being that we might become our true selves and know real freedom.
  • Christ has irrevocably, inextricably entangled Himself with all humanity — the Incarnation cannot be undone. O Glorious Entanglement that saves the whole world!
  • The Cross was the inevitable consequence of the Incarnation, when He who is infinite life joined Himself to a humanity bent toward death — it could only ever result in Resurrection.
  • Teach me today, Lord Jesus, for You are my proverb and my psalm, my wisdom and my praise. Amen.
  • Christ, the True Light who gives light to everyone, has come into the world. Follow Him.
  • Neither death nor evil nor sin have any purpose, any rightful place in God’s creation. They are imposters, detracting from life and good and wholeness. But their power has been broken at the Cross, where they were shown to be the frauds they are, and they are destined for destruction.
  • Christ is the True Light who gives light to all the world. Look for His light in everyone you meet.
  • Faith in Christ looks like following him.
More random thoughts …

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mary’s Yes Changes the Whole World

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The angel Gabriel came to the little village of Nazareth, in Galilee, to a young girl named Mary. He had a wondrous announcement for her: “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked, “since I am a virgin?” It was not a question of doubt but of wonder, for Mary was a ponderer and thought deeply about things.

“The Holy Spirit will come on you,” Gabriel answered, “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord!” Mary said, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Mary said Yes. She said Yes to the angel and his announcement, of course, but more than that, she said Yes to God the Father, who had sent the angel and shown her such favor. She said Yes to the Son, who would be conceived in her womb and to whom she would give birth. And she said Yes to the Holy Spirit, by whom this great miracle would happen.

Mary’s was a very powerful Yes , one that changes the whole world. For it is in her Yes — her faith-filled response to God’s Yes — that Christ received his humanity, so that God became flesh and dwelt among us. And it is by the humanity the Lord Jesus received from Mary that he has joined himself to us in our humanity — becoming not only one of us but one with us. It is through Mary’s Yes, then, that God has chosen us in Christ. That changes all of us and is what all creation is longing for.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 9:19-22)
Through her Yes to God, Mary became the pathway for the God who became Man and who rescues the world through the cross and the resurrection. Because of Mary’s Yes to giving birth to the Lord of heaven and earth in a lowly stable, the birth-pangs of all creation will be fulfilled.

Merry Christmas to all creation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How God Chose Us in Christ

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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:3-6)
God chose us in Christ, Paul says. He chose us in him from before the world began. He chose us so that we could be his holy people, his special treasure, and blameless in his sight. He decided in advance (at least from our perspective) that in Christ he would adopt us as his very own children. This has always been his pleasure and purpose, his gracious and glory-revealing gift to us in Jesus Christ, so that, as the NKJV puts it, we are “accepted in the Beloved.” And in Christ, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. This is the exceedingly great reality God has given to us in Christ. (See, Chosen in Christ for the Unity of All Things.)

But how did it happen? How has God chosen us in Christ? By what means? It has nothing to do with what we have done. There is nothing we could ever have possibly done to make it so. It is purely something God has done for us, a gift of God’s grace, and it is this that we particularly celebrate at Christmastime. I am speaking of the Incarnation, which the gospel according to John puts this way:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)
Jesus Christ is the Word — God himself — who became flesh. He did not just come and reveal himself to humanity, he became a human being. In becoming a human being, Christ did not become just one of us, he became one with us, for we are all connected in our humanity. In becoming a human being, then, God joined himself to all of humanity.

It is precisely because of this connection we share with each other that Paul could say, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). And, “Consequently, just as one trespass [Adam’s] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Christ’s] resulted in justification and life for all people” (Romans 5:18).

This is the good news of the gospel. In the Incarnation, Christ has joined himself to us, and this changes everything. It means that when Christ died on the cross, we died there, too. Paul said, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

The cross was the inevitable consequence of the Incarnation. When he who is infinite life joined himself to a humanity bent toward death, it could only ever result in resurrection. Christ’s connection to humanity also means that when he was raised from the dead, we were born again through his resurrection. The apostle Peter said, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

In Jesus Christ, God has become human. How can this not but transform all of humanity, like leaven in bread? That is how the kingdom of God works, and the leaven of God’s love.

Christ has irrevocably, inextricably entangled himself with all humanity — the Incarnation cannot be undone. O Glorious Entanglement that saves the whole world!

This is the joyful anticipation of Christmas.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A New Song for All the Earth

Sing to the LORD a new song;
    sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, praise his name;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
(Psalm 96:1-3)
A new song has come into the world, a song that reveals God’s salvation come for all the nations, his glory made known throughout the earth. It is the sound of good news, of the coming of Christ. It is the song of the gospel, captured in three words: The Lord reigns. When this new song is sung, the world can no longer remain as it was, for the coming of the King changes everything.
Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.”
    The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the LORD,
    for he comes, he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.
(Psalm 96:10-13)
In the coming of Christ, the world is set on a firm foundation, for he has disarmed the “principalities and powers,” the unjust authority and systemic evil that lies behind kings and cultures. Their power has been broken by the way of the cross and the life of the resurrection so that no one is obliged to honor them — we are free to live out this new life we have in Christ. For he has come to judge the earth, to heal, to cast out the demonic, to put things right, to make all things new. When he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is in his glory.

This is truly a cause for jubilation, not only for the nations but for the whole universe — cosmic celebration! Our English translations do not capture very well the wild exuberance of joy indicated in the Hebrew text: Let the heavens be lighthearted and merry. Let the earth spin for joy. Let the sea and everything in it roar with delight. Let the fields and everything in them jump for joy. Let all the trees of the forest let out with high-pitched shouts of joy. Creation itself is waiting for the full manifestation of our redemption in Christ.
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21)
Even now, this new song is being sung, and has been since the first Christmas. In the season of Advent, we tune our hearts again to its sound that we may sing it afresh.

Joy to the World is a song for every season but has been especially celebrated at Christmas. Here is my arrangement, from my Christmas album, He Come from the Glory.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

All Nations Will Stream Into Zion

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God’s purpose for Israel was never just about the ethnic descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob only but for all the nations and families of the earth, as the poets and prophets of the Old Testament well understood. This understanding was heightened considerably in the New Testament, to such an extent that Paul considered it a mystery revealed in the gospel.
May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. Then all nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed. (Psalm 72:17)

I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me — Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush — and will say, “This one was born in Zion.” (Psalm 87:4)

Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD. (Psalm 117)

In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” (Isaiah 2:2-3)

They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:9-10)

The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:10)

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the LORD and seek the LORD Almighty. I myself am going.’ And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the LORD Almighty and to entreat him.”

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’” (Zechariah 8:20-23)

Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 8:10-11)

Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. (Romans 11:25-26)

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.” Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.” And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.” (Romans 15:8-12, citing Psalm 18:49; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1; Isaiah 11:10)

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness — the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:25-27)

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles — Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:1-6)

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. (Revelation 21:23-26)
In the end, the full number of the Gentiles will be grafted in and all Israel will be saved. All the world will know the salvation God brings, and God himself will say of each of us, “This one was born in Zion.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016

This One was Born in Zion

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He has founded his city on the holy mountain.
The LORD loves the gates of Zion
    more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are said of you, city of God.
(Psalm 87:1-3)
The Lord loves the gates of Zion — the holy city of Jerusalem. Reading this through the New Testament revelation of Jesus the Messiah, that is, through the lens of Christ and the gospel, we understand Zion to be the new Jerusalem, the Jerusalem that is free, the Jerusalem that is above, the heavenly Jerusalem that comes down, joining heaven to earth (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 21:2). It is, in a word, the Church, the body and bride of Christ (understanding that the Church in the New Testament is not a separate entity from Israel in the Old Testament).

The psalm writer sings the praises of the holy city and of God’s love for her. The Lord has founded it on the mountain he has chosen for himself; Christ has built his Church upon the rock of who he is (Matthew 16:18). The Lord loves Zion; Christ loves the Church and gave himself for her (Ephesians 5:25). It is no surprise that glorious things are said about the city of God. What is surprising, though, is how the psalm writer describes that glory:
“I will record Rahab and Babylon
    among those who acknowledge me —
Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush —
    and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’” (v. 4)
Rahab? Babylon? Philistia? Tyre? Cush? These had all been troublesome, some even oppressive, for much of Israel’s history. Rahab is a reference to Egypt, who once held the children of Israel in bondage. Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and carried off the people into captivity. The Philistines had been foes of Israel in the days of Saul and David. Tyre, in the region of Philistia, and Cush represented other difficulties and temptations for Israel. Yet, God says of these that they are among those who know him and of whom he will say, “This one was born there.” Born where? In Zion, the city of which the psalm writer is counting the glories. So the NIV supplies “in Zion” where it is actually only implied — but then in the next verses it is made explicit:
Indeed, of Zion it will be said,
    “This one and that one were born in her,
    and the Most High himself will establish her.”
The LORD will write in the register of the peoples:
    “This one was born in Zion.” (vv. 5-6)
This is not a work wrought by any of those nations, not even by Israel. It is the work of God, a matter of divine love, mercy and grace. God has founded the holy city and established the peoples in her, for he never intended Israel to be a nation unto herself but a people for the sake of all nations, as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), and to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham that all the families and nations of the earth would be blessed through him and his descendants.

The Lord has founded Zion, and the psalm writer portrays him as recording the people in the registry of the city. Of each one, the Lord writes, “Born in Zion.” Though they have come from elsewhere, now they are record as belonging to Zion, fully accepted as rightful inhabitants, and heir to all the rights and privileges of the city. Here there is no dividing line between Jews and Gentiles, between Israel and the nations. Through faith, Gentiles are grafted into the promises along with faithful Israel. When all the Gentiles have come in, Paul says, then “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25). In his letter to the Church at Ephesus, he addresses the Gentile believers about how the boundaries have been obliterated in Christ and we have become “fellow citizens with God’s people.”
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) — remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22)
The psalm writer, then, closes with this note of deep celebration, a song for all who know the blessing of Zion — of Christ.
As they make music they will sing,
    “All my fountains are in you.” (v. 7)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bring the Good News ~ The LORD Reigns

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How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
    together they shout for joy.
When the LORD returns to Zion,
    they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together,
    you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD will lay bare his holy arm
    in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth
    will see the salvation of our God.
(Isaiah 52:7-10)
Let the word go out: Good news has come. Break forth with singing. Shout out for joy. Let there be loud rejoicing. Isaiah is speaking about the gospel, the good news, the glad tidings. This is the content, and cause for unrestrained celebration: Your God reigns!

Jerusalem was still in ruins and Israel in exile, but the prophet sees behind the veil and beholds God returning to Zion. Though everything seemed dark at present, Jerusalem would not be forgotten. The Lord would come to console his people, to redeem Jerusalem and set her free.

The consolation of Israel was what Simeon had been longing for that day in the temple when he saw Joseph and Mary bringing their newborn infant into the temple courts. He swept the Christ Child into his arms and thanked God: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Then he blessed the baby Jesus: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” (See Luke 2:25-35.)

The redemption of Jerusalem is what Anna had been watching for those many long years she spent fasting and praying in the temple. When she saw Simeon blessing Jesus, she immediately recognized what was happening: the fulfillment of Isaiah’s ancient prophecy was at hand. “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38).

This is the good news of “salvation.” The Hebrew word, which the prophet used twice in this passage, is yeshuah. When it is used as a personal name, it is Yeshua, which is translated into English as Jesus — his name means “salvation.”

Salvation is a person, for Jesus himself is the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem. He is the good news of the gospel, the Lord who reigns, and he has returned to Zion. The New Testament speaks of the new Jerusalem, a Jerusalem that is free, a Jerusalem that is above, a heavenly Jerusalem that comes down, joining heaven to earth (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 21:2).

This new Jerusalem is the Church, which is identified as the body and bride of Christ. It is important, however, to understand that the Church in the New Testament is not a separate entity from Israel in the Old Testament. Indeed, the Church is Israel. What was promised to Israel in the Old Testament is received by Israel in the New, by all who come to Jesus the Messiah. Even the nations (the Gentiles) who receive him as King are, to use Paul’s words in Romans 11, “grafted into” the root, which is Israel.

The Lord Jesus has laid bare his holy arms at the cross, where he defeated the powers in the sight of all the nations. And all the earth will know his salvation.

A few years back, I wrote an Advent version of Psalm 122, in light of Isaiah 2, Isaiah 52, Revelation 21, the New Jerusalem and the coming of King Jesus into the world: Psalm 122 and the New Jerusalem.