Text: Isaiah 65:17-25
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” Thus says the Lord in the second to last chapter of Isaiah. He promises a time when His beloved children will no longer suffer the effects of sin. In that time He will rejoice over His people and dwell with them. No longer will there be heard among them the sound of crying or distress, no longer will there be an infant who dies only a few days old nor and old man who doesn’t fill out his days. No longer will God’s people labor in vain, nor will they build and others inhabit. The wolf and lamb will graze together and the lion will eat straw. Finally, the promise made in Genesis 3 will find complete fulfillment: the serpent will eat dust forever. God says that there shall be no hurt nor destruction in all His holy mountain.
All this we understand to be a picture of what our lives will be like in the Resurrection. Last week the lessons took us to the end times and the return of our Savior. And now this week, the last Sunday of the year, we are given in our Old Testament text a vision and a promise of the blessed future that awaits us. In Gospel and Epistle readings we are exhorted to live and wait as those who are wise and have oil enough and more. But here in Isaiah, we see that for which we wait and pray. We await from our Lord the time when sin will be no more. Our God promises to us, His beloved children, a new heaven and earth. There He will dwell with us in a way that we can’t even fully comprehend yet, and He will cause us to live in joy, security, and peace forever.
Thus saith the Lord, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” As we talked about last week, at the end of the Church Year our minds turn toward the talk of eschatology, the last things. Our Epistle and Gospel readings direct our consciences toward what will happen to us. Between recent funerals and the readings, we’ve reached a conclusion. Those who die in faith are immediately in the presence of Christ. Though we lay their bodies in the grave, those same bodies will be resurrected at Christ’s return. One thing we haven’t really talked about is, what happens to creation? After all, God created us with bodies. Bodies need space. Bodies need the creation. Yet, at present, the creation itself is corrupted by sin. St. Paul says in Romans that, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth,” until such time as sin will be no more.
That’s where our text comes in. God promises to create new heavens and a new earth. You might hear that and expect that we’re hearing from Revelation – because it’s there, too. But it’s also promised here in the Old Testament. It’s unclear to us exactly how the new heavens and earth will come to be. St. Peter says that the heavenly bodies will be burned up with fire. Hebrews simply says the foundation of the earth and heavens will be “changed,” like you would an old shirt. Whether by fire or other means, the Biblical witness and the promise of God is that all things will be made new. And, quite frankly, we’re due for it. Our Lutheran forefathers were of the opinion that the earth is somewhere around 6,000 years old, judging from the timelines in the Bible. This view we share. That’s six thousand years of death. Six thousand years of disease and decay, of crime and warfare, of sin and shame. But all these things will pass away. We who have been baptized have already been made new creations in Christ, but then will all creation itself be made new.
What will be new, is that the effects of sin will be no more. God goes to one of the most notable changes, “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days.” In this new creation, the chief consequence of sin will be destroyed. Death will no longer exist. No more will we mourn the loss of our children nor grieve for those who passed too soon. There will be no more weeping nor cry of distress. For, God says, “I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people.” In addition, the former things shall not be remembered. Meaning, the sins that we committed will no longer weigh us down. There will be no death, and there will be no guilt.
Because God will create all things new, death and sin will be no more. We will live in the joy of the resurrection and in its security. The language of building and inhabiting, planting and eating, calls to mind the many times in the Old Testament where God’s people were delivered into the hands of their enemies. God allowed them to be driven from their land as punishment for sin and their adultery against Him. Other families lived in their homes and other farmers benefited from their hard work. But, no more. Instead, “They shall build…and inhabit…they shall plant…and eat…my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.” Think of all those times you’ve worked hard on something, only to see it fall to pieces. That won’t happen anymore.
“For like the days of a tree shall the days of My people be…They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them.” God returns us to the big idea here: there will be no sin, no death. Death is not a good thing. Jesus Christ died to put an end to death; at His Return it will finally be no more. The translators of the Greek Old Testament monkey with the Hebrew here, but I’ll allow it. They change “like the days of a tree,” to “like the days of the Tree of Life.” The lives of God’s beloved people will be like the Tree of Life, standing in the Garden of Eden forever for all to see and enjoy. This eternal life will extend not just to us, but to our children. No longer will we labor in vain, or bear children just to outlive them. Instead, we and our children will live together in God’s light. Remember what St. Peter said on Pentecost, “The promise [of forgiveness in Christ] is for you and for your children.”
So much of this text is beyond our comprehension. We can imagine there being no death, but only to an extent. The entire experience of our lives is built upon the fact that things don’t last. None of us has ever lived in a world where there was no death. Soon we will. God has yet more to say in our text. “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” Repeatedly God promises in Scripture to dwell with us. All of it – all of the work of Christ, His fulfillment of the Law, His suffering, His death, His resurrection and defeat of death – culminate in this. God will dwell with us in an immediate sense. There will be nothing between us. Truly, God does already dwell with us in Word and Sacrament, but in the new creation we will be in the presence of God. Before we call, He’ll answer. While we’re speaking, He’ll hear. It won’t be a terrifying presence, like in chapter 6 when Isaiah is sure he’s gonna die for seeing God. It will be a joy, and God Himself will rejoice.
Last things. “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the LORD.” So much of this we can’t truly picture, so God describes it in a way we can. The fundamental order of creation will be changed. There will be no death and no destruction in the new creation that awaits us. And so, at the end of another Church year, our minds turn to the glory ahead. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we await from it our Savior. When He returns He will change our bodies to be like His and create all things new. Let us pray.
O God, the Father of all mercies, we bring unto You this day our sacrifice of praise for the innumerable and inestimable blessings which You have bestowed on us in Christ during the Church year which is now ending. You have caused Your divine Word to be preached to us, which is able to make us wise for salvation; You have permitted us to enjoy the holy Sacraments for our comfort and sanctification, and have accompanied the means of grace with the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We thank Your for Your goodness and praise Your holy name. We beg You, that in Your mercy, You would forgive us all our sins of the past year for Jesus’ sake, and graciously preserve for us and Your whole Church the light of Your Gospel. Lead us by Your Holy Spirit, that, receiving Your Word with gladness, we may be sanctified by Your Truth, and finally receive eternal salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.