Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of End Times: Saints Triumphant (November 15, 2015)

ISAIAH 65:17-25


In the name + of Jesus. 

     Are you having a bad day?  If not, you probably had one recently.  There are countless reasons you could be having a bad day.  Maybe you are still reeling from some bad news.  Maybe you were the victim of someone sinning against you.  Maybe your body is aching.  Maybe you had car trouble, or are cold, or stubbed your toe.  Maybe your hair simply would not work for you today.  Sad to say, bad days are commonplace in this world—though some are downright horrible, such as in Paris on Friday.
     That is frustrating, but it is hardly new.  Bad days began with that very bad day back in the Garden of Eden.  Before sin entered the world, everything was good.  There were no fights, no rivalries, no diseases, and no death.  When the Lord presented the animals before Adam for him to name them, Adam did not fear being bitten, mauled, or trampled.  Every part of God's creation was in perfect harmony with God's will and obedient to God's word.
     Then Adam and Eve sinned against God.  They defied his word and disobeyed his command.  That sin not only effected Adam and Eve, it also corrupted all of God's creation.  Adam was told by God, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you....” (Genesis 3:17-18)  The earth was cursed.  The creation was corrupted.  And Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden.  Eden was lost.  It was the first of many bad days to come, and now we are all participants of bad days because we are sinners living in a sinful world.
     The people to whom Isaiah preached also knew their share of bad days.  Isaiah forewarned them that worse days were ahead.  The people of Israel had not followed God's word.  When the Lord sent prophets to call them to repent, those prophets were ignored, persecuted, and killed.  Nevertheless, the Lord remained patient.  He sent more prophets.  He repeated his call to repentance through them.  The people still did not listen.  They did not take the word of the Lord seriously, but continued to live their lives as if nothing were wrong.  Finally, the Lord's patience wore out.  Prophets, such as Isaiah, no longer preached repentance.  Instead, they proclaimed judgment.  He who is slow to anger was finally stirred to anger against the Israelites.  They would be overrun by enemies.  They would be taken from their homes and lands.  Others would move into their homes and feast on their crops.  Many would be slain; others would be exiled.  Though it was not Eden, the Promised Land was lost.
     But even before the Israelites would be exiled, the prophet Isaiah spoke of their return.  He assured them that, after they had been taken captive by the Babylonians, the Promised Land would be restored to a remnant.  This restoration was foretold by Isaiah: “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.  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.” (Isaiah 65:21-23)
     That's not to say that the Israelites were done with bad days after they resettled the land.  They were still sinners.  They still lived in a corrupt world.  They still had enemies who surrounded them.  And there were day-to-day frustrations and hardships to contend with—from untimely deaths to envious family members to muscle cramps.  Still, they were restored to their land and to their Lord.  The joy of being restored to the Promised Land was incredible.
     That was a mere glimpse of the joy which will be ours when we enter the Paradise of God.  The Lord does not merely tell us that our days will get better.  They will be perfect.  This is what the Lord says: “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.  I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” (Isaiah 65:17-19)  Eden will be restored, and the old order of things shall be no more.  The bad days will not even be remembered.  There will be no more crying or calamity, no more problems or pains, no struggles, no stress, and no death.  For the Lord will make a new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness.  Eden will be restored.
     “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)  The reason that the new creation will be perfect is that there is no sin in it.  And if there is no sin in it, not even the consequences of sin—the thorns and thistles, the sweat and pain, and every bad day—will ever bother those who dwell there.  Eden will be restored.
     Now, the only way we can enter the new heavens and new earth is if we ourselves are without sin.  The Israelites of old were banished because of their sin.  It would be no different for us.  No matter how we try to overcome it, we are guilty of sin.  Many of our bad days are self-inflicted.  Our sins often result in consequences now—lost friendships, loss of respect, lost jobs, or even jail time.  If the world will not put up with our sins when it is wicked, how can God put up with us when he is holy?  You and I are accountable for our sins, and we have nothing to offer but lame excuses.  Like the Israelites of old, we deserve banishment—not merely from our homeland, but from God's presence and blessings.  Repent!
     Yet, the Lord has not lost patience with us.  He does not merely tolerate us for our sins; rather, the Lord has had mercy upon us and cleansed us from our sin.  Jesus took our sins and made them his own.  Then he was forsaken at the cross for us.  He shed his holy, precious blood for us who are sinful and corrupt.  And he has cleansed us in that holy, precious blood so that we now stand before God as people who are holy and blameless.  If God loved you before you were holy and blameless in his sight, how much more does he love you now that you are his saints!  That is why you shall enter the new heavens and the new earth.  The old order of things—the brokenness and brutality of a sinful world—shall be no more.  Instead, you shall have peace forevermore.
     Isaiah depicts that peace this way: “'The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox....  They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,' says the Lord.” (Isaiah 65:25)   There will be no enemies and no animosity when Eden is restored.  No one will despise or devour anyone else.  No actions will be tarnished by sin, but all will love one another and be at peace, in perfect harmony with the God who has created us.  Eden shall be restored.  The Lord will have good things for us for a lifetime, and that lifetime will be eternal.
     I don't know how many bad days you will have here.  I don't know how bad those days will get.  Some will be downright miserable.  But even in those days, maybe especially in those days, take refuge in God's promises.  A better day and an immeasurable glory is coming.  The Lord Jesus, who suffered, died, and rose to gain us a place in the new Jerusalem has ascended to prepare our place with him there.  He will surely return to deliver us to that place.  The former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17)  But the peace, the glory, the life, and the joy will go on without end.  Eden shall be restored, and  we shall dwell there forever with the Lord.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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