Scripture: Isaiah 65:17-25
I know none of us were around to experience it, but the turn of the 20th century was an age of hope and optimism. This was an era of technological breakthroughs. Innovations in mass communication, electricity, mechanization, and transportation had all happened. Humanity was on the cusp of figuring out the secrets to flight, and it truly seemed the sky was the limit for human progress. This age of hopeful expectation was exemplified by the 1900 World’s Fair held in Paris. At this event scientists and inventors shared concepts, prototypes, and experiments for all kinds of potential innovations. One of the many exhibits on display at this event were a series of paintings made by French artist Jean-Marc Cote. These paintings imagined what life would be like a hundred years in the future in 2000. All told the series consist of 78 paintings and they give an incredible glimpse of what people of more than a century ago thought today might be like. While he did get the idea that someday phones would be able to transmit images as well as sound correct, the vast majority of the predictions did not come to pass. For instance, Cote imagined that humanity would colonize the ocean and utilize whale powered buses and watch eel races on the seafloor. He also guessed that flight would be a lot more common as he drew pictures of firemen with winged suits fighting a fire, postal workers delivering mail on personal aircraft as well as a flying bus at an elevated bus stop. For those of you who know history, the optimism of the early 20th century came to a crashing halt with the advent of WWI and it was put on full display how deadly the technological breakthroughs could be. Since then, visions of the future seem to go back and forth between two extremes. Some future visions still see a bright future with flying cars or a new era of peaceful space travel, and other visions of the future are apocalyptic and imagine the future a ravaged wasteland. It seems that when a visionary looks to the future what they see has a lot to do with their current outlook. People with optimistic outlooks see a bright future and people with a pessimistic outlook see a bleak tomorrow. While a lot of authors, visionaries, and dreamer who have taken a stab at what the future might hold have gotten some ideas right, unsurprisingly everyone gets the details wildly wrong as well.
If we tried to predict the future from a faith perspective, we might also get some of the exact details wrong but what the future ultimately holds should be fairly easy to pin down in broad terms because the bible is fairly consistent in telling us. We see it put forth in this morning’s scripture. There will be a day when God’s redemptive work is complete, there is a new heaven and a new earth. This morning’s scripture and others like it throughout the bible describe what the future ultimately holds. As we consider what this biblical future looks like, I think the question we also have to ponder is how do we live into that future?
By our modern chapter break Isaiah has 66 chapters and it is the sixth longest book. Of all the Old Testament prophets Isaiah is the one that is quoted the most in the New Testament, so we tend to be a little bit more familiar with Isaiah. To generalize, the writings of Isaiah fit the mold that we can see throughout the prophets. Isaiah was active in the Southern Kingdom of Judah before it fell, before Jerusalem was sacked, and before the people were taken into exile. Like many of the prophets Isaiah points out the sinful behavior of the Israelites as well as their neighbors, calling them to repentance. Then like other prophets Isaiah proclaims the judgement and consequences that will come. Finally, like other prophets Isaiah promises restoration after judgement. One of the areas that makes Isaiah standout is how much detail we find about redemption and restoration. While Isaiah writes about the end of the exile and the return to the promise land, we also find writings in Isaiah that speak to God’s bigger plans. Isaiah is perhaps most well known in Christian circles for his messianic writings. In writing about what God’s future plan for redemption looks like Isaiah writes a lot about the messiah. We commonly read these scriptures around Christmas and Easter because they so clearly seem to describe Jesus. Isaiah goes a little bit further than that, in Isaiah we see a glimpse of God’s complete plan fulfilled. A plan where all of creation is completely redeemed with a new heaven and a new earth, where the old order of things have passed away, and where the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.
The scene described in this morning’s scripture has a lot of similarity to what we can find in Revelation 21, and this is because they both describe the same thing. Our scripture reading this morning began with “See I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former thing will not be remembered.” Revelation 21:1 states, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” Both scriptures go on to envision this new reality as God’s people living in a new holy city of Jerusalem. Both scriptures give a glimpse about what God ultimately has in store for the future. The scriptures do have a little bit of a different focus. One of the major emphasizes found in the Revelation scripture is the idea that God the father and Jesus the son will reign forever and ever in a world without end where the people are God’s people and God is with them. This morning’s scripture fits nicely with that image as it gives a general overview of what people will experience living in this new heaven and new earth.
As we look over this morning’s scripture I think we can categorize the experience of living in this New Jerusalem in three ways. First, we see a celebration and joy in life. Verse 19 states the sound of weeping and crying will be heard no more, and then the first reason given for this is found in verse 20: “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 year.” The same connection is found in the Revelation passage, as Revelation 21:4 states “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” This promised future fits so well with other biblical promises, because through Jesus we are a promised an eternal life that does not end. A life of fullness and joy that goes on and on into a happily ever after that does not end is the reality the bible describes awaits us in the future.
Not only is it a promised life of joy and fullness but it will be a future marked by dignity and fairness. This is what a large part of this morning’s scripture is dedicated to establishing. This morning’s scripture states, “No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plan and others eat . . . my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. They will not labor in vain.” This morning’s scripture describes a future reality of fulfillment and fairness. This is so different than the reality we normally experience. We can see the unfairness all around us. In the fallen world we currently occupy, we can point to broken systems all around us that seem to favor and prioritize those who already have more than others. We can see the unfairness all around us where everything seems to be bent so that the rich get richer. We can see the corruption, the greed, and the selfishness. We also know how much anxiety, how much anger, how much sorrow, and how much pain all of this has caused. It is not fair. We are told from an early age to “get over it because life is not fair.” We are told this so much that we do not even question it. Why should we just accept that life is unfair? Because that is not how things should be, and this morning’s scripture promises us that it will not always be this way.
The final experience that will categorize living in the New Jerusalem is one of peace. This morning’s scripture makes this point with really vivid imagery in verse 25: “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the lamb.” Clearly in an ancient, agrarian based society wild animals that threatened livestock were a much greater problem, so while wolves and lions no longer threaten our peace today we still have our fair share of peace stealers. Think of all the jealousy, pettiness, prejudice, and other toxic behavior that pollutes our world and relationships. All that junk gets in the way of living at peace, and this morning’s scripture promises that in the future that will all melt away, all will be at peace, and none will be harmed on God’s holy mountain.
In general that is the wonderful future that is in store according to the prophet Isaiah. It is a future that is promised but is not yet. I cannot speak for you but the future Isaiah prophesied about sounds really great. I look forward to an eternity that will be an experience of joyous life, dignified fairness, and peace with God and one another. The good news is that while this new heaven and new earth hast not yet come to be, the ground work has already been laid. God’s ultimate plan for the future is possible because of the mighty works of Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, and the restoration of all creation is possible. This means that while this morning’s scripture describes the future, the ability for this future to be realized already exists. We can stand on grace, and grace alone, to begin living into the God’s future promises now.
There will be a future day when God’s work of restoration will be complete, all of creation will be redeemed with the creation of a new earth, and all of those who have been saved by grace will dwell in God’s presence forever and ever. This will ultimately be accomplished by God’s might and goodness alone, but until that time in some small way we can help make that promised future our current reality. We can help build God’s kingdom here and now by living into the future. We live into the future when our actions reflect the reality of God’s promised future. When we advocate and stand for practices that help others live lives marked by joy then we are living into the future. When we conduct ourselves with integrity, when we treat others with fairness, and when lead with grace in all of interactions with others then we are living into the future. When we seek to be at peace by being quick to forgive others, seek to be at peace by seeking forgiveness from God and others, and seek to be at peace by leading with compassion and understanding then we are living into the future.
When it comes to predicting the future, the two main approaches have been to look to what might happen through the lens of incredible optimism or dour pessimism. No matter what may come in our immediate tomorrows, as followers of Christ we can have a view of the future that is full of hope because this morning’s scripture tells us what we can expect. We can expect a future of no more weeping, a future as God’s people, and a future free from harm. While we do not know when this future will be realized, we can begin to live in to that future now. We can live today as it is that promised future, and we can choose to have our thoughts, our actions, and our attitudes reflect the joy, fairness, and peace reflect what is yet to come. In doing so our lives can be like a song that proclaims God’s promises for the whole world to hear.