90 Days with Scripture: Isaiah 60-66, New Heavens & New Earth

Friends,

This is the manuscript from part 6 of the series. We are reading through the Bible in 90 Days and at this point those who are participating are midway or so through the Psalms. This sermon, from Isaiah 60-66, is fairly simply and makes three major points–derived by scanning the entirety of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. One, that the new heavens and the new earth and their creation are something that God is about the business of doing. It’s not, no matter how much we are Advance Signs, something we can accomplish on our strength. Second, that there is necessarily a future element to this work. You will notice as you read through these chapters in the Prophet that he continually uses the word ‘will.’ Not everything is accomplished now, which is one of the paradoxes of Christian faith. Furthermore, I might add as a side note, just because we are doing things now as Advance Signs, just because our work now gives hints and clues of what God will do, this doesn’t necessarily translate into an exact representation of what God will do. For that matter, it doesn’t necessarily mean that God is even involved in what we are doing. We give hints, glimmers, sign-posts, but we are shadows. God is the Real and His plans for the New Heavens and the New Earth are likely vastly different than ours. Finally, I will conclude the sermon by noting that what God has done and will do have been inaugurated and completed in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus uttered those word ‘it is finished,’ and we sense in those words a finality and Luke tells us in chapter 4:18-19 that Jesus said these words of Isaiah were fulfilled in him! Yet Luke, when he begins the book of Acts, tells that he wrote the first book (Luke) to tell of all that ‘Jesus began to do and teach.’ This leaves us with the distinct impression that his second book (Acts) is about all that Jesus continued to do and teach by His Spirit through His disciples. So God has done it; God will do it.  Admittedly, I have too much text. The idea, however, was not to exhaust Isaiah’s vision, but, much like we are to the world, to give just a hint, a glimmer, of what he was pointing us to and we see completed in Jesus. Then we ask: Is Jesus enough? jerry

90 Days with Scripture

Week 6: November 2, 2008

Isaiah 60-66

Introduction

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,

and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.

See, darkness covers the earth

and thick darkness is over the peoples,

but the LORD rises upon you

and his glory appears over you.

“Chapters 58-66 begin, as does the book as a whole, by exposing hypocritical and manipulative approaches to worship that insult the glorious God whom Isaiah has so powerfully portrayed. If the worship that is supposed to restore and sustain fellowship with God is itself sinful, how can the barrier of sin between God and his people be removed? The answer lies in God’s commitment to his purpose and in his creative power. The God who created the world will not cease to work until he has defeated sin, turned hearts to him, and established new heavens and a new earth. All that remains is for people to recognize the true nature and work of God and to respond to him in faith.” (109, Briley)

________________

I suppose that we cannot really begin to describe what that time will be like. I can’t even begin to imagine what that place will be like. Sure we have ideas and notions, but they are only ideas and notions; premonitions perhaps. I don’t know really. All I have to go one is Scripture. All I can do is take Scripture at its word and trust that God will make good on his Word.

Some say that we currently are involved in the process of making things better in this world. We are, they say, Advanced Signs of what God is doing or will do. Those who live out their faith in practice are ‘making this a better place’ or at least showing the better place it will be when God finally finishes the work he has said he will finish. We are workers for justice, among other things, but we are we really? I know we are supposed to be working for justice and for freedom and shining our lights before men…but is man realistically speaking capable of such a thing?

Admittedly, I have too much text for today, but if I learned any one thing out of all that I learned this: What Isaiah was prophesying, what he was pointing to, what he was directing our attention to, what he was promising-is that what needs to be done on the earth, even if we are Advanced Signs, needs to be done by God. So consider what led into this chapter:

He saw that there was no one,

he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;

so his own arm worked salvation for him,

and his own righteousness sustained him.

He put on righteousness as his breastplate,

and the helmet of salvation on his head;

he put on the garments of vengeance

and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

According to what they have done,

so will he repay

wrath to his enemies

and retribution to his foes;

he will repay the islands their due.

From the west, men will fear the name of the LORD,

and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory.

For he will come like a pent-up flood

that the breath of the LORD drives along.

“The Redeemer will come to Zion,

to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”

declares the LORD.

“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD. “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the LORD.

I think history demonstrates rather conclusively that human beings are not that good at fixing things. We really do want things to be better, but we have only a marginal notion of what ‘better’ even means and an even worse idea of how to accomplish that. It’s a terrible way to live, really, but we seem to take some comfort from the fact that every now and again slight progress is made. I have to be honest with you though, I’m not particularly interested in the sort of world that man makes better.

It’s not that I am a fatalist or anything. I’m a realist. I know who I am: I know what I think is a better world necessarily conflicts with what 90% of the population thinks is a better world. Faith then consists of the willingness to allow that God’s version of what is a better world is necessarily right and that my conception is necessarily right.

This takes us back to Genesis 3 where we started all this. It was there that man had the silly idea that having knowledge of good and evil was a good idea. It was there that man said, I want to be the creator of life, the creator of destiny, the creator of a standard of living. We have lived content in that place for a long, long time, scarcely acknowledging that God’s way is right, that his judgment is just, that his creation is good and ours is not.

God, however, does not just take us back to Genesis 3; he takes us back to Genesis 1. The opening verses of today’s sermon reflect that:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,

and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.

See, darkness covers the earth

and thick darkness is over the peoples,

but the LORD rises upon you

and his glory appears over you.

Here it is, then! Darkness covers the earth; thick darkness covers the people. And what sort of light to we want to cover the earth and raise our hopes? Artificial light? Fake light? Do we want light that man creates out of his conception of good and evil or do we want light of the glory of God? Well, truthfully speaking, we probably want the light of men. We are still likely convinced that man can solve all the problems that man has created.

I’m not so optimistic. I want better solutions. But the solution is not merely a solution. The solution is God. This is not about God setting the world right by our standards of good and evil, right and wrong, justice and injustice. This is about God setting the world right by His standards.

” ‘Hear the word of the Lord,

you who trembled at his word:

‘Your brothers who hate you, and

exclude you because of my name, have said,

“Let the Lord be glorified,

that we may see your joy!”‘

_____________________

And God is not cautious in his description of what he means to do, in what he is already doing, in what he means to finish. But he does speak in futuristic terms. If it is something God does, it is something God will do, and something we will participate in.

  • You will look and be radiant.
  • Your heart will throb and swell with joy.
  • I will adorn my glorious temple.
  • Foreigners will rebuild your walls.
  • I will show you compassion.
  • You will be called priests of the Lord
  • You will be named ministers of our God
  • I will not keep silent till her vindication shines out like the dawn
  • You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.
  • I will measure into their laps the full payment for their former deeds
  • But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
  • They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain
  • See I will create new heavens and a new earth, the former things will not be remembered.

And there is more. All I am saying is that we may see Advance Signs now, we may be Advance Signs, but there is still an aspect of it that even we are looking forward to. In the meantime I believe we will find it terribly difficult at times to wait. We have to be ready, we have to be patient, we have to be busy. But we have to wait. It’s not all here now, even if it has been inaugurated.

Well, it will be a grad and glorious thing when it happens. He uses imagery that we can understand and relate to, images like weddings, wealth and prosperity, new clothes, great beauty, war, abundance, birth of a child, and more. He points us back to the beginning when God saw all that he had made and it was good. He tells us these days will be like those days of the Exodus when Moses led the people out of captivity. It will be a time marked by peace and joy and abundance and good food and justice and righteousness and peace (‘no longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates praise.’) He goes on:

“Then will all your people be righteous

and they will possess the land forever.

They are the shoot I have planted,

the work of my hands,

for the display of my splendor.

“The least of you will become a thousand,

the smallest a mighty nation.

I am the LORD;

in its time I will do this swiftly.”

_______________________

Finally, this work, this mighty, mighty work, was announced in Genesis 3: You will strike his heal, he will crush your head. It was set in motion in Genesis 12: You will be a blessing to all nations. It was inaugurated in Jesus of Nazareth when he quoted Isaiah 61:1-3 as recorded in Luke’s Gospel:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,

because the LORD has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim freedom for the captives

and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor

and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion–

to bestow on them a crown of beauty

instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness

instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise

instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

a planting of the LORD

for the display of his splendor.

Jesus said, after reading this Scripture: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Today? Fulfilled? Already? In Jesus? You mean we are already living in the time when God has begun his work of renewing, restoring, and re-creating? Jesus announced the beginning and ending of Scripture’s fulfillment. Jesus did. No one else makes that claim, only Jesus of Nazareth. And should we be so disappointed then when he is found at Calvary?

What I love about these verses here in Isaiah is that by and large, far and away, they are mirrored in the book of the Revelation. And Luke, combined with John’s portrait in the Revelation, demonstrate to us that God’s plan has not changed. In Jesus we see an inauguration and an acceleration of the plan, but not a change in his plan. This is what Jesus came for, this is what God is working towards, this is the fulfillment of all things: A New Heavens and New Earth. A new life that is free from the tyranny of the urgent, free from the tyranny of tyrants, free from the tyranny of obligations to anyone but God Almighty Himself. As Cottrell notes, “What this means is that heaven is not the elimination of time itself, but the elimination of time limitations. No more deadlines! No more expiration dates! No more having to quit before the job is done! No more, ‘I just ran out of time’!”

Should we then be so surprised and shocked that this work of God involved the cross?

Jesus makes a bold statement. He says: I am the fulfillment of this prophecy of Isaiah. He says, “I am the one whom the Lord has sent to start and finish this work.”

__________________

But as I noted at the beginning:

“All that remains is for people to recognize the true nature and work of God and to respond to him in faith.”

So I am asking: Where is your faith? In whom have you placed your trust? I suspect that many of us live with some sort of apprehension or anxiety about today or tomorrow or Tuesday. Where is your faith? Do you have confidence that this God who began a good work in you can and will finish it?

I don’t need to be complicated this morning, and I don’t need to go deep. I just need to ask you: Where is your faith? Is your faith in the One who certainly cannot fail because He spared nothing, even giving his own Son to die? Is your faith in the world which is bound over to destruction? Is your faith in the One who has guaranteed His promise in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth? Or is your faith here in the place and in the ones whose worm will not die, whose fire is not quenched?

Yet:

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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