We each have our own memories of Julie. My first memory is of a young HSC student coming to MBM. We were then just 10 people meeting in my home in Blacktown in 1991. Apart from a few years when she was overseas with Jeremy, for over 26 years Julie has been with us as a key member of MBM. We saw Julie mature in her faith, and become wife to Jeremy and mother to her three beautiful children, Annalise, Gemma, and Ethan. We saw her build a family and a house.
Julie consistently served in children’s church and as a wonderful bible study leader and host. She was a gentle but powerful witness for Christ. We started a new church service from the fruit of her witnessing to Jesus: it now has over 200 young adults who attend.
But Julie didn’t just love people to make them Christians: she just loved people. People were not a means to an end for Julie.
Whenever there was a problem at church, she would come alongside with a solution. “Ray,” she said, “I keep forgetting to put my giving in the container. Can we have electronic transfer set up?” Sure Julie. When does a minister say no to giving? “Ray, what about printing a sermon outline? It would really help some of us take notes.” I thought to myself, “If I had an outline for my sermons, that might help me too!”
Each person faces their own death differently. On the one hand, Julie had an absolute certainty about eternal life. But on the other, it was also clear that she was going fight this cancer with her last breath, last prayer, and last dollar. I think Julie was fighting for every second for her family.
Julie was a disciplined Christian. She spent five years doing battle with cancer, and yet Julie and her family was some of the most regular people attending church. She kept teaching at school when others would have stopped. She kept hosting her bible study group. She even chose the songs we’re singing today and Bible readings we’ve heard well before she died.
So let me take you to one of those bible passages. But be prepared: it will be Julie who will be preaching this sermon.
In Revelation 21, the second last chapter of the Bible, verse 1, we read:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (NIV)
If this world were a movie, this passage would be the scene at the end of the film, with a sequel guaranteed to follow. This sentence reminds us of how the Bible begins: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” But the promise of a new heaven and new earth begs the question: What went wrong with the first heaven and earth?
Haven’t we all seen David Attenborough’s TV series, Planet Earth? What went wrong is—‘us’ . Beginning with Adam and Eve, we each have decided to stand against our loving creator. Our wills defy God’s will. You see what’s wrong with this world?
One example of what’s wrong with the world is Julie’s country of origin, Syria. It was devastated and torn apart under the evil regime of ISIS. There is just one taste of why we need the new creation.
In Julie’s own journey with cancer, which has spilled over into the grief we all feel today, we see another aspect of what’s wrong with the world. Julie wrote:
I did everything my doctors told me to do: surgery that disfigured my body; chemotherapy that stole my hair; and radiation that burned me. Four weeks after my surgery, my cancer had returned with a vengeance. It had spread to my bones and lymph nodes in my chest and it was inoperable and incurable.
It is so obvious why we need a new body and a new heaven and earth. As majestic as this earth is—and I do love David Attenborough’s documentaries—this world is simply unacceptable to live in forever. Sin and suffering—despair, decay, and death—are everywhere.
In verse 2, the image changes from new creation to God’s city coming down from heaven, accompanied with a promise in verse 3:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (NIV)
This is an image of the future. It is an image of God coming down and dwelling with his people in a new city on a new earth. Our ultimate home is not a disembodied and cloudy ‘heaven’ but the new city on a new earth in a new creation.
This scene pictured in Revelation 21 is not the first time God would come down to his earth. On that first Christmas Day, God’s Son came from heaven to make earth his home for a short time. When Jesus became human, God was permanently siding with us. In the person of Jesus Christ, God was entering into our word of suffering and our experience of tears. He came to share in our pain and bear our guilt and endure our death. He became human ultimately to carry the sin which had brought about the brokenness of the world we all experience.
But now in this future new creation, God will again come down to earth in person to live with us in a new city in a new creation. God is forging a new people and creating a new society. His love will be seen in that he will be with us and we with him. Now we pray to him unseen: “Our Father in heaven”. Then we will address him directly: “Our Father here on earth with us”. And best of all, we will see God face to face.
And with the coming of God himself comes also his good blessing in verse 4:
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (NIV)
These are precious promises. We know that all our days are numbered. Sooner or later we too will die, if Jesus doesn’t come back soon. We don’t know why suffering is uneven distributed in this world. I could have suggested another 350 names to God for him to take first—including my own—before he got to Julie,. But we all have the comfort of a God who makes precious promises. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Right now, Jesus has pulled out the tissues and said to our sister Julie, “My dear child, there, there now. No more tears for you, darling.” And the reason for this is, “There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain.”
If there are tears there in this new creation, they will be tears of joy. Death will no longer casts it long shadow over us, making a mockery of all our lives. In this new creation, you will never have attend another one of these awful funerals ever again. The pain which marked so much of Julie’s last five years will then have become a distant memory.
We have all observed the breakdown of Julie’s body as she became more and more frail, and no one more than Jeremy, who was so beautifully tender with her in hospital. But Julie’s eyes were fixed on Jesus and his new creation. Julie wrote about her certain hope in these words:
I know that this world is due to expire. I think of heaven and that there will be no more crying or pain. This suffering that I’m enduring is only for now, and compared to eternity, it is short lived. In heaven, he will completely restore me and make me strong, firm and steadfast.
Julie’s brief life in this old creation is now completed. She is now with her Lord. Her old body will be replaced by a new resurrection body, fit for a new creation. That is why we don’t pray for Julie now. There is no purpose in praying for one who now has Jesus, and will soon receive all things, including her new body. We do grieve, but we do not grieve for her. As she rightly said, “God will completely restore me and make me strong, firm and steadfast.” We struggle now because we live this side of the reality. Julie now lives on the other side of that reality.
Julie had that certain hope and lived with a robust trust in Christ. She showed us that you can be a woman of science and a woman of faith. She also showed us that you can have real faith in God and be upset with him, because that what is you do when you worship a personal God. She could trust him with her tears and her anger, because that is what you do when God is ‘your Dad’. When the medical treatment failed, she said, “I felt very angry and disappointed with God.” But then Julie goes on to say:
I read through the book of Job, thinking that my feelings were justified. But I felt even more convicted of my sin and self-righteousness. I submitted to his authority and will over me, even if it meant death and chose to trust in his unfailing love.
It would be wrong to think that Julie was some sweet, sinless saint. Julie knew her sin and her need for a Saviour. Julie would want me to ask, no, plead with every one of you here—students and teachers, friends and family, MBMers, young and old—that if you have not yet come to Christ or if you have walked away from him, know that the Lord Jesus is waiting for you with open arms. Take his hand, welcome his kind offer, know that there is nothing he can’t forgive—nothing at all. The only person stopping you from enjoying this new creation is you.
If death is the end, then this life is the very best its going to get. But for the one in Christ, this life is the very worst its going to get. What awaits is a new heaven and earth, with no more crying or grief or pain.
The medical staff caring for Julie were wonderful, but they too could do no more. But the one on the throne, the one who raised his Son from the dead, can and will do more. He will raise Julie, and is now making all things new. Verse 5:
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
I want ‘new’. I don’t want the ‘old’ anymore—for me or for anyone else.
May these words comfort you, Jeremy, Annalise, Gemma, and Ethan.