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Message for 11-17-13 A RE-CREATED HEAVEN AND EARTH

“A RECYCLED HEAVEN AND EARTH”

Isaiah 65:17-25

 

            If we had the chance to re-create this universe from scratch, what would we keep, and what would we leave out?  I think we’d probably keep most, if not all, of what God put here the first time: earth and stars, land and water, plants and animals.  And I think we’d probably leave out just about everything that God plans to leave out the next time around: frustration, futility, pain, violence, alienation, sorrow, and death. 

Here in Isaiah 65, for the first time in the whole Bible, God announces, “I’m gonna create new heavens and a new earth.”  God’s not gonna set up shop for eternity in this world as it is.  God’s gonna replace the old corrupted heaven and earth with new and improved models.  God’s gonna transform the old earth and its creatures.  God’s gonna take our present world, and give us new bodies and a new environment, free from the curse that our earliest ancestors brought upon God’s good creation.

            The prophet says that the new creation will be so wonderful, that “the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”  He’s not saying that God will forcibly erase our memories or make us forget what we loved.  It sounds like the world to come will make our old joys and excitements down here look like childish toys by comparison.  We can forget about our plastic Big Wheel that we used to ride; now, we’ve got a real BMW we can drive.  Memories of what we used to treasure will be overwhelmed by a flood of new joys beyond our wildest dreams, while our pains will be forgotten for good.

            God is positively excited about what God has planned.  God will rejoice, because creation will be restored to its full original beauty and goodness.  God will also rejoice because God’s heart will no longer be torn at the sight of human suffering.  No longer, we are told, will there be the sound of weeping or the cry of distress.  No more will lives be cut tragically short.  The ancient curse on our planet will finally be broken forever.

            The prophet predicts that in the new universe, LONG life will be the rule.  Verse 22 says, “For like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be.”  To live only to be 100 years old will be considered a curse.  Such large ages sound like echoes of Genesis 5.

            Does that sound impossible?  Researchers have identified numerous factors that, if we could fix them, could double the average human lifespan.  When we talk about long life, look at turtles, which can live more than 300 years.  Or how about the bristlecone pine, which can live almost 5,000 years?  Some species of lichen can live almost that long.  Most trees have no problem living hundreds of years.

            But the prophet may not be talking about longer lives for our present bodies.  He may be talking about eternal life, life that will never die again.  He may be using a time-bound description for a world that can’t be measured in years or centuries. 

One point is clear.  Humans will no longer be chaff, blown by the wind.  We will no longer be passing vapors.  Our lives will finally experience the permanence that has so long eluded us.  And so will the work of our hands.

To an audience that has lived in exile as long as they can remember, to folks who were tired of getting uprooted and displaced, the prophet proclaims that no longer will they build homes, only to see someone else end up living in them.  They shall not plant vineyards, only to see someone else end up getting all the fruit. 

Isaiah’s future audience is tired of the frustration and futility of their everyday lives.  What a pain, to invest so much labor in building a house or business, and never enjoy the results!  How terrible to go through the pain of childbirth, only to see those children swept away by the ugly realities of their exile!  The prophet proclaims that God will put an end to the insecurity that has plagued them for so long.  No more futile work!  No more frustrating wasted effort!  No more bewildering upheaval!  God’s people shall not exert themselves in vain, nor shall they bear children destined for sudden tragedy.

What the prophet gives his readers here is a message of SECURITY.  Security looms large in the new world that God is preparing.  God’s people shall “long enjoy” the work of their hands.  The word here means they’ll enjoy what they have till it wears out.

Speaking as a person who has lived in 6 different houses in the past 20 years, I get jealous of people who have lived an entire 90-year lifespan in the same home.  Yes, that could be boring.  But to those who have never known it, stability sounds appealing, to know that “home” will never be moved.  I love the comforts of security.  I hate being uprooted.  I hate having to give up possessions that are too many to move or to keep.

But our hunger for stability and security is fueled by the knowledge that nothing in this creation is permanent.  We can’t hold on to any of it.  Everything around us is destined to wear out and be replaced, someday.  Treasure the moment, but be prepared to let go and move on.  We have no other choice.

God planted this desire for security within us as a magnet to draw us to himself.  Any other source of security is destined to fail us.  Having a job – there’s no guarantee we will always have one.  Having a home –homes are easily lost to fires, storms, and creditors.  Having enough money or insurance for emergencies – we cannot pile up enough to protect us against every possible disaster.  Having a loving spouse, friends, or children there to lean on – the reality is that we can’t depend on them to always be there.  If we lean all our weight upon human relationships for our security, they’re always going to let us down.  If we want to be emotionally healthy, we have to wean ourselves away from earthly forms of security.  We have to outgrow them.  We have to find our real security somewhere else.

Paul made the life-changing discovery that only Christ can meet that God-given need for security deep down in our souls.  Only God is big enough to meet that need.  God will never die or disappear.  God will always be there.  God is the only One who is truly faithful or reliable, though every human prove false.  That’s why Paul writes in Philippians 4:11-13, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content…I any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

For someone who has hated this world, letting go of it comes as a welcome relief.  But those who love it here and who are afraid to let go, we need to stop and think.  Maybe what we love so much about this world, is really glimpses of heaven.  C S Lewis once said, “Earth’s crammed full of heaven.”  The blue sky and the trees and the waters and the people we have known and loved, may simply be little pieces of an even more beautiful world that lies ahead.  And if we want to be part of that world, we have to let go of the one we live in now.

Verse 24 – “Before they call, I will answer.”  People’s prayers will finally be answered immediately.  No more maybe’s.  No more of the frustration felt by God’s people in exile, who prayed so long for God to set them free, without ever seeing their prayers answered.  Someday, we’ll finally be on the same page with God.  Our thoughts will finally be God’s thoughts.  No more alienation from God, or from one another.

And verse 25 brings us back to where we were in Isaiah 11 – “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food.”  An end to violence – it will be icing on the cake for the newly re-created world foretold by Isaiah, a truly welcome sight for the sore eyes of God’s people who had suffered so much at the hands of their captors.

Isaiah’s vision is Good News to people who will someday read his words in exile, folks who were totally disillusioned by the universe as they had lived it.  They longed for a better one.  Isaiah announces to them, “It’s coming!”  For God’s people in Babylon, life may be a prison cell.  But God’s gonna start this universe all over again, and then God’s people will get another chance to live life the way God meant it to be lived.

Like the exiles, we may get tired of this world the way it is.  We may get sick of upheaval in our lives.  We may get sick of losing what we worked so hard for.  We may get sick of a relentless stream of tragedy in our faces.  Our spirits may be worn down by the realities of sickness, violence, and death.  But God’s got a new world on the way, a world in which we can rejoice. 

God’s gonna re-create this world that we have loved too much to throw away.  God’s gonna give us lives that will last longer than the bristlecone pine.  God’s gonna give us security.  God’s gonna give us an end to pain and futility.  God’s gonna break the curse once and for all.  It will be like Isaac Watts describes in his song “Joy to the World”: “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground!  He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found!” 

Don’t give up!  Don’t despair!  God’s got a new re-creation on the way.  As we go into the season of Advent, we eagerly look forward to the day when God will make all things new.  And as we wait for that day, we need to let Christ be our source of security, the only One who will never let us down, the One who can put us right with God, so that we too can share in that glorious new creation that God has prepared for those who receive his tremendous gift of mercy.

Let us pray.  Lord, give us patience as we wait for the day when You will break the curse, the day when You will recycle this world, that day when You will take this world and re-create it according to Your loving original plan.  Give us the vision to keep that world in sight, so that we can keep the trials and heartaches of this world in their proper perspective.  We ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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