161113 Isaiah 65:17-25

Last Updated on Monday, 14 November 2016 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Isaiah 65:17-25
Theme: Blessed By The Lord

What a day! What a glorious day! Today is Lutheran Education Sunday at St. Matthew's. Hearing how the students sang this morning and seeing how they helped "Fill It Forward" by filling this big jug with coins and bills over the past few weeks, both of those things reminded me of David's inspired words in Psalm 8: "From the lips of children...you have ordained praise" (2).

But that's not all. Today is also Commitment Sunday at St. Matthew's, the culmination of five consecutive stewardship Sundays, and really the result of months of planning and praying. This morning we will gather our offering a little differently to mark the uniqueness of the occasion. Instead of passing the plate down the pew like we usually do, families will be invited to come forward and place their regular weekly offering as well as their three year Forward commitments in the baskets provided.

But that's not all. Today we also celebrate Saints Triumphant Sunday and honor the memory of those believers who have finished their lives in faith and now rest from their labors. Today we remember our Christian friends and family members who have gone ahead of us into heaven. The fact that they are no longer with us may make us sad, but the knowledge that we will see them again fills our hearts with joy.

This morning Isaiah gives us a glimpse of the glorious future of God's chosen people. As we take a closer look at what the prophet says, and as we apply his prophetic words to our lives, my prayer is that we will all come to the same conclusion: we are blessed. We are...

BLESSED BY THE LORD

We can't truly appreciate this prophecy unless we understand what was happening where and when it was written. Isaiah lived about seven hundred years before the time of Jesus, and it was a dark and depressing time in Israel's history. With one huge bite the Assyrian armies had devoured the ten tribes of Israel to the north of Judah, and they were hungry for more. If the Lord had not miraculously intervened, Jerusalem would have been destroyed and the Jewish people would have been wiped off the face of the earth (see Isaiah 36 & 37 for the full story of God's deliverance).

Even though God's people had been spared for the time being, the future didn't look very bright. They were still surrounded by powerful enemies. They were still being harassed and oppressed. They were grateful for God's deliverance, but in the minds of many the Lord had only postponed what was inevitable.

So were they right? Was their assessment accurate? Were God's plans and God's people a lost cause? Isaiah answered the Lord's critics with a clear and emphatic, "NO!" He assured his people that there was still hope. He promised them that God's plan was still on track. And as Isaiah approached the end of sixty six chapters of prophecy, he provided some amazing details about how that plan would unfold.

Before we look at the prophecy itself, we need to remember something about the nature of Isaiah's prophecy. Isaiah doesn't always pinpoint God's promises to a specific time in the future. Some of his predictions were fulfilled when Jesus came. Some of his predictions are being fulfilled right now. Other prophecies won't find their final fulfillment until Jesus returns on the Last Day. And there are some prophetic passages that can be applied to the present AND the future. When we understand that Isaiah doesn't arrange everything in a nice, neat chronological order, then it becomes much easier to appreciate his message, a message of hope for God's people, then and now.

Isaiah begins: "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered nor will they come to mind" (17). If you aren't happy with your current situation, if you don't like the direction the world is headed, if you don't like the way your life is going, that's okay. In fact, that can be a good thing because it suggests that you aren't attached to the things of this temporal sinful world.

The present world is coming to an end. That's for sure, but that's not all. So are all our memories of it, and that can be a very comforting thought. Every sin from your past that still haunts you, every thought that fills your heart with fear or keeps you up at night, every wrong you have tried to forgive but couldn't forget, will be forgotten. Forever. And that is just one of the reasons Isaiah tells us we can be glad.

Isaiah continues: "Be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy" (18). I don't know about you, but it isn't too difficult for me to rejoice when I think about the future, when I think about the perfect place God has prepared for me in heaven (sometimes heaven is described as the new Jerusalem).

What is more difficult for my little brain to comprehend is the idea that God can have the same kind of feelings about a sinner like me. I have trouble understanding it, but I believe it because that is what he says. God says: "I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more" (19).

God delights in his people because they are his people. He not only made us. He made us his own through his Son. Jesus satisfied God's demands of perfection. Jesus sacrificed his life to save us from death. He takes away our sorrows. He wipes away our tears. And one day he will take us to a place where there will be no more tears.

"Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed" (20).

At the time these words were written they meant something special to the people who read them. These were people who were constantly at war. These were people who had come to expect that death would take their loved ones before their time. In the midst of all the carnage and chaos, Isaiah offered God's people hope. God promised his people: "What is normal for you now will be but a rare exception in the future."

And what Isaiah promised would be true for the length of their lives would also be true for the quality of their lives: "They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune, for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them (21-23).

I don't know if we can appreciate how much those promises meant to the people who heard them for the first time, but we can still appreciate them. If something precious has ever been taken from you, if you have ever lost someone who is near and dear to you, if you have ever been to a Christian funeral you know what I mean.

It's only human to grieve when someone we know and love dies. It hurts when we look in the casket and see our loved one lying there, but even at times like these God's people are not without hope. We have hope because the sad events of our lives on earth will not even be a rare exception in heaven. In heaven there will be no sadness. In heaven there will be no funerals. In heaven "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4).

While those words of God recorded in Revelation tell us what heaven will not be like, Isaiah paints a picture for us of what heaven will be like: "'The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox...they will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain' says the LORD" (25)

A wolf eating next to a lamb without thinking about making that lamb its next meal. A lion eating straw like the ox instead of actually eating the ox. You won't find pictures like these in National Geographic. These pictures take us back to the Garden of Eden. These pictures remind us of a time when all of God's creatures lived in perfect harmony. These pictures anticipate a time of renewed and lasting peace.

Imagine that. Imagine what that will be like. No more wars. No more violence. No more conflict. Just peace. Perfect peace. The peace of God that surpasses all understanding. The peace that only comes through Jesus. A peace that will never be interrupted. A peace that will never end.

Saints Triumphant Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays of the year, partly because we get to sing some of my favorite hymns. During communion distribution today we will sing "For All the Saints" and "Behold a Host, Arrayed in White." And I would like to close today with the words of the great Christian hymn writer Bob Marley. Actually Bob Marley didn't compose any of the hymns in our hymnal. I'm pretty sure that he wasn't a Christian, but the refrain of one of his songs ("Three Little Birds") captures the sentiments of Isaiah and the message of hope this day brings: "Don't worry 'bout a thing cause every little thing (is) gonna be all right."

Today we celebrate the fact that we don't have to worry about our loved ones who have died in the Lord because now they are with the Lord. We don't have to worry about doing enough to earn our place in heaven because Jesus has done everything for us. We don't have to worry about paying for our sins because Jesus has paid our debt in full. Because of Jesus we don't have to worry about what will happen when we die. Because Jesus has made us holy we are saints. Because Jesus has won the victory we are triumphant. We are blessed. We are blessed by the Lord. Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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