Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, We like to look forward to things, don’t we? My children look forward to cousins coming to visit. Many people are looking forward to the end of this month to enjoy a Thanksgiving Day feast. Perhaps many children are looking forward to a Christmas and snow sledding. We look forward to many things in life, don’t we? And why do we do that? Perhaps it’s because we know, or at least hope, things could be a little better than what they currently are. Perhaps it’s because we WANT things to be better than what they are.
Certainly that’s how the faithful believers of Judah were also feeling, the ones to whom Isaiah wrote. Isaiah lived near the end of the 8th Century BC. It’s a time when the northern kingdom of Israel had rejected the one true God and had followed false gods and the ways of this sinful world. And the southern kingdom was beginning to follow suit. Instead of trusting in God they trusted in alliances with foreign nations. The Assyrians rose to power and inflicted heavy taxes on both of the kingdoms of Israel. The northern kingdom tried to rebel and so the Assyrians made them into an example of what happens to little nations when they try to rebel against the powerful Assyrian nation. They completely destroyed the northern kingdom and hauled off the people who were living there into exile. Later the Assyrians invaded Judah itself, destroying whole towns, killing and capturing many people, wrecking farms and vineyards, occupying their land.
Sin is a horrible thing. Where did all this come from? Think back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, not only was sin introduced into this world, but so were the effects of sin. Remember how they felt? All of a sudden they felt things like shame, guilt, embarrassment, and fear- for the first time. They had never felt those things before, but then they did.
And the effects of sin are all over the place. Some of the effects of sin are mentioned in our text for this morning: weeping and crying, sadness itself is a result of sin in the world. Untimely death, children dying at a young age, that’s a consequence of sin. One of the most difficult things I’ve had to do as a pastor is a funeral for a little baby. If sin did not exist than there wouldn’t be anything such as wars and people destroying other people, people coming into someone else’s country and living in their homes and eating their food. Sin has even affected nature. Because of sin there are devastating natural disasters that cause death, pain, sadness, trouble. Sin has also affected the animal world. We would never dream of putting a wolf and a lamb together in the same pen. Why not? The lamb would certainly turn into a tasty treat for the wolf!
Not only has sin affected nature and the animal world, it’s also affected you and me too, hasn’t it? How so? We’ve experienced the grief of losing a loved one, the pain of a broken marriage or a relationship that once was strong become cold and fractured, we’ve experienced sickness and the effects of our bodies aging. We’ve felt the shame and guilt of saying or doing or even thinking things that are sinful or being unkind to someone else. We know what it means to be discouraged, to experience failure, defeat, frustration, and gloom.
And yet, we’ve been spared from experiencing some of the worst effects of sin. Think about it, in our lifetime we haven’t experienced a full-fledge war on our soil. We haven’t had a foreign enemy nation come in and invade us. We haven’t experienced what it would be like to have an enemy nation take over our schools, our churches, our homes. We haven’t experienced enemies coming in and killing or capturing our friends and loved ones before our eyes. We don’t really know what it’s like to have planted a vineyard and watched as an enemy came and took it all.
The people of Judah did. The Israelites had seen first-hand how the Assyrians came in and completely destroyed the Northern Kingdom. Then, later, the Assyrians came and invaded Judah, crushing towns, destroying homes, hauling off all their possessions, killing and enslaving thousands. A miracle of God kept them from also destroying Jerusalem at this point.
But can you imagine experiencing things like that? Can you imagine the horror of watching as your own relatives are attacked, captured or killed? Can you imagine the fear and frustration of watching as everything that you ever worked for was all hauled off by someone else? Can you imagine the hopelessness and helplessness that they probably felt? I imagine they longed for something new, something different, something better- perhaps even more than you and I. Sin is absolutely horrible and has horrible effects in this world in which we live.
And it’s seeing these effects of sin in this world that makes us appreciate what God did all the more. God didn’t stay far distant from this sinful world, He came! He was willing to come to our world and suffer the consequences of all sin of all time in His own body, with His own death on the cross. Then by rising from the dead He defeated sin. Because Jesus died and rose sin no longer has power over us. Yet, while we still live on earth we still struggle with the horrible effects of sin. Sin has been defeated, but we still experience the effects of sin every day. And that makes each of us long for something different, long for something better, like those OT Israelites.
And so, what does God do? He comes to His people with glorious promises of something different, something totally different and totally better. He describes our permanent home, our final home, and since He first had these words written for His OT people He conveyed it in terms and images that they would understand. First, He says that He’s making a new heavens and a new earth, what does that mean? That’s pretty hard for us to understand. But heaven’s going to be something totally different than this world that has been so corrupted with sin and its effects. So, what’s that like? He goes on with images we can kind of understand: Jerusalem, that is, God’s people, will be a joy and delight, His people will be glad and rejoice forever, there won’t be any more weeping or crying. Can you imagine that? People are going to live and live and live, there won’t be infants dying at young ages or people dying at before they get to old age, like in our world. There won’t be any more evil, what’s that like? It’s like if you build a house, you’ll be able to live in it, if you plant a garden, you’ll get to eat it’s fruit. You’ll just keep living and living like trees that can live a really long time. You’ll be able to communicate directly with God without wondering if He heard you or how He answered your prayer. Then it just goes far beyond our earthly experience, like a wolf and a lamb that will feed together, that a lion will eat straw like a cow! In other words, heaven is just beyond our experience and far better than we could ever comprehend here on earth!
Someone once made the illustration that going to heaven is kind of like being born. The baby inside of his or her mother is comfortable, well fed, warm, cozy, has all it needs. As the pregnancy goes along the baby starts getting a little cramped in there, maybe not quite as comfortable, little less room to wiggle around- but that’s ok, still warm, well-fed, protected. Then all of a sudden one day the baby feels starts feeling pressure, it’s being pushed and pushed, it’s stressed, anxious, “What’s going on??!” What’s happening to that nice, warm, cozy home?
Then the baby comes out and after screaming for a while looks around and thinks, “Wow! I never knew this was out here! This is great!” Who in their right mind would want to go back inside the womb of their mother? That’s ridiculous!
And so it is with us. We get comfortable in this world, we know it, we know how things work, it’s somewhat stable, and sure there are difficult times, times of problems, challenges, but we know this world and thought of leaving this world is maybe a bit uncomfortable. But then one day we close our eyes here on earth and open them in heaven and think, “Wow! I never knew this was out there! This is great!” And just like a baby, there’s no way we’d like to return here, for we are enjoying a NEW heaven and NEW earth which is totally different and totally better than what we have now.
And it’s difficult for us to understand. In heaven everything will be perfect and awesome, there will be no sadness, but only joy all the time. We’ll be completely focused on the love of our God, on the graciousness of our God that we won’t even think about the problems and the troubles of this sinful world. But it’s hard for us to get that, so God paints His descriptions of heaven in words we can understand: like telling us of golden streets, white robes, people living on and on like trees, no more crying or weeping, wolves feeding together with lambs, and we think, “Wow! That’d be awesome!” But in reality it will be far better than what we can even imagine!
What a wonderful thing to keep in mind when we meet challenges in this world! When we experience the horrible effects of sin, how wonderful to know that this world is not it, we have something awesome, beyond comprehension, something amazing to look forward to and something our loved ones who died in the faith are already enjoying! That glory is ahead of you: a new heaven and a new earth, and it will be glorious!
And the reality is, it’s yours right now! God’s already given you eternal life: so press on looking forward to what’s coming! Amen.