Text: Isaiah 65:17-25
Last Sunday of the Church Year, Series C
Listen to the sermon here.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Last Sunday, we discussed the signs indicating that Christ’s return is near. Jesus prepared us for the increasing difficulty of the Last Days by reminding us of God’s tender care. This Sunday, we are going to look at what happens next. After the Church makes it through the Great Tribulation, after the Battle of Armageddon, and after Christ, himself returns, and the dead in Christ are raised, what happens next? Have you ever wondered what life will be like after Jesus returns? What will life be like in this new heaven and new earth? What reasons might you have for joy in the New Creation? Today, the Lord reveals a life we can barely imagine through the prophet Isaiah. God tells us life will be so good that we will “be glad and rejoice forever” (Is 65:18). Isaiah, the prophet, gives us three reasons to have joy and gladness in the New Creation. For one, our joy will be the work of God. Second, our lives will not be short. Third, our labour will not be in vain.
Our Joy will be the Work of God
There’s an idea floating around the Christian church that says if we want to see what Isaiah talks about, then we’re going to be the ones to do it. We need to make the world Christian; set up a Christian theocracy. And if we can do that, only then will we have what Isaiah promises: heaven on earth. This idea is not limited to Christians. Many think that if they try hard enough, they can turn the world into a utopia. Except that’s not what Isaiah says or sees. Isaiah tells us that the efforts of mankind will never fully transform this world into a paradise. It’s not our job to create heaven on earth. While we live in this world, we are salt and light, and we try to make the world a better place, but that will never bring about what Isaiah is talking about. How do we know that? Three times in our text, God says, “I create.” “I create new heavens and a new earth” (Is 65:17). “Be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for, behold, I create Jerusalem to be a delight, and her people a joy” (Is 65:18). Only God’s miraculous work will bring about the real change people desire.
When God creates, he doesn’t just patch up a few things so everything looks okay on the outside. The Lord has no intention of slapping a bandage on creation. He will completely restore it. Creation will be good as new. This radical transformation will occur because God has established his kingdom on earth as in heaven. His great restoration work will be worldwide. It will include all of the heavens and every part of the earth, all peoples, all nations, all aspects of nature, all places, and all relationships God has with the things he creates. It is a return to the paradise of the garden of Eden before sin entered the world.
This new world will be so utterly different that the past will be forgotten entirely. “The former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Is 65:17). The harm caused by sin, suffering, hunger, death, and destruction will fade from memory. You will never look back at the past with longing eyes. God will create a New World and bring you joy and gladness as you’ve never yet experienced. As people rejoice in this beautiful, new world that God will make, even God himself will take pleasure in what he creates. Not only will you be happy, but because you are happy, God will be happy, and everything will be good again. This is all the work of God and not at all a human achievement. It is the work of the Almighty God.
Part of why Isaiah can promise your ultimate happiness is his conviction that God will know what you need to be happy. “Before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Is 65:24). Many of us have experienced the power of prayer, but we have also experienced its frustration. Sometimes we wonder if God hears our prayers because we didn’t get the expected answer. Sometimes we find ourselves trying to pray but don’t know how. We may think our words cannot express the longings of our hearts. Isaiah tells us there will be no barrier to communicating with God and that he can even understand the unspoken prayers of our hearts. He knows what you want and need. He is paying attention to you and will answer you. Your ultimate joy and happiness are the work of God. And He will enjoy seeing you happy in his New Creation.
Our Lives Will not be Short
Next, Isaiah talks about concrete examples that show us the radical changes that will exist in this new world that God will Create. God promises, “The voice of weeping and the voice of crying will be heard in her no more” (Is 65:19). What do you think is one of the significant reasons for weeping and crying in our world? Death. Death will be gone. Notice that God says, “For the days of my people will be like the days of a tree” (Is 65:22). The oldest tree in the world is the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, and it’s nearly 5000 years old. These trees are found in the higher mountains of California, Nevada, and Utah. If your life is over 5000 years long, anybody under 100 years old will still be a baby. People will no longer have their lives cut short. There will be no more infant mortality; people will not be cut off in the prime of their lives by the violence of war or disease but will grow to be thousands of years old.
Weeping will be gone. Death will be no more. Sorrow, pain, and loss will be a thing of the past. It will be a world where family is never gathered around a coffin ever again. This will be a world with complete harmony and oneness. This peace will extend into nature itself. There will be no more blood-dyed tooth or claw, for “they will not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain” (Is 65:25). It’s not a fairy tale. Death has touched each one of us. God promises that his original plan for this creation will not be sidetracked forever. What God intended it to be, it will become again: a world without fear, sin, and death. This new creation will create joy and gladness because we will see the end of sorrow. We will see our loved ones again. People will live forever, and there will be peace throughout creation.
Our Labour Will Not be in Vain
Since death will be no more, there won’t be a feeling of futility as we work and build only to leave them to someone else. We won’t have to worry that our children will be born only to suffer some tragedy or catastrophe. This text assures us of a time when there will be a correspondence between work and reward. “They will not build and another inhabit. They will not plant and another eat” (Is 65:22). It’s not unusual for those who keep the lawns to lack the money to buy the houses that rest on those lawns. Those who build and repair homes often cannot afford to buy those homes. They shall not work without purpose.
Work does not go away, but like everything else, it is transformed. Isaiah writes, “My chosen will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labour in vain” (Is 65:22–23). There will be meaningful and productive work. People will get to live in the houses they’ve built; they plant gardens and eat and enjoy their fruits. God’s restored and healed world is a world where there will be food security, where people will be able to enjoy the fruits of the crops and vineyards they have planted, where people will have access to adequate housing, building houses and actually getting to live in them. The poor will not be oppressed. Taxes, inflation or increases in the cost of living will never again eat up your livelihood. There is never a threat of financial loss. There will never again be wars where enemy nations invade, destroy property, and steal the fruit of a farmer’s labour. At that time, people will be able to enjoy the rewards of their hard work.
Now, an important question to ponder is: knowing my heart, my thoughts, my tongue, my actions – will I be there? Knowing what I know about myself – how can I possibly be considered good enough, worthy of this promise? Unlike the rich and famous, life in this new world doesn’t depend on how hard we work, the lucky breaks we get, how wise we are with our investments, or how many influential people we know. In our Gospel reading, the three men on the cross were under the same death sentence. All were very soon going to die. There was only one difference. The criminals were getting the punishment they deserved for their crimes. They were not worthy of paradise, and they admitted it. Yet, Jesus was being punished even though he did not deserve it. Jesus had done nothing “wrong”. God brought one of the thieves to repentance. This criminal knew that he was a sinner and was afraid to stand before the judgment seat of God. The thief’s sins troubled him, but he did not despair. He asks Jesus, “Remember me.” Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The criminal’s body would be dead and buried. Still, his soul would be with Jesus in Paradise, the place of rest and refreshment before the gift of new life in the resurrection. To have life in the New Creation is a gift that was earned for us by someone else – by God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.
The thief threw himself upon the mercy of Jesus. And Christ’s compassion was rich toward him. And Just like the thief had a word from Jesus, we also have Christ’s Word. Our King offers this eternal life through the Word and the Sacraments. Those who repent and trust in him are promised a place in the new creation. What’s more, you received a foretaste, a downpayment of the life Isaiah describes. You are already a new creation through holy baptism. The Holy Spirit has begun a renovating work in your life. This means, even now, you begin to reflect the life of the age to come.
Isaiah foretells that the New Creation will be a place of joy. This joy will be the work of the Creator God, who will destroy death and provide us with a life of purpose and meaning. No one can buy or work their way into the new heaven and new earth God will create. But, because of the suffering and death of Christ, our gracious God gives it away for free. Treasure this glimpse of the New Creation because this is the life you will enjoy forever.
May, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.