Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: Isaiah 65:17-25
End Time 3 – November 17, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
There have always been, and there will always be as long as this world endures, those who criticize the Christian church. And over the years I’ve heard many criticisms, and one that I’ve sometimes heard is, “The church is so heavenly-minded that it’s no earthly good.” In other words all the church talks about is heaven and how to get there so that it focuses no practical attention on life in this world and doesn’t deal with any of the problems of this world.
I suppose there’s some merit in that criticism. A church could possibly focus only on how to get to heaven and carelessly ignore how to live as a Christian in this world or how to deal with problems in this life.
But on the other hand what is the purpose of the Christian church? Primarily it is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ so that people know about the forgiveness of sins and have the hope of heaven. The Christian church and Christians rightfully are to be heavenly-minded.
Today is the 3rd Sunday of End Time, Saints Triumphant. It’s especially appropriate to be heavenly-minded on this day. Today we remember and thank God for the faithful Christians who have gone before us and now reign triumphantly with Jesus in heaven. And through the prophet Isaiah God gives us a picture of heaven to encourage us to be faithful and long for that day when each one of us will also be saints triumphant.
Today God is encouraging us through these words:
TRY TO IMAGINE WHAT HEAVEN WILL BE LIKE
If you randomly interviewed 100 people on the street and asked them if they believe in heaven, what percentage would say that they do believe in heaven, or at least some kind of better life beyond this world? I’m guessing that close to 100 percent would say they believe in heaven. But if you asked those same people if they believe in hell, what percentage would say that they believe in hell? I’m guessing this time that there would be a majority who would say they don’t believe in hell.
Why the difference? Why would so many people say they believe in heaven but not in hell? I think the answer is rather obvious. People want to believe in heaven. They like the idea of heaven. They don’t want to believe in hell or deal with the reality of hell. So they try to deny it.
The Bible gives us ample reasons and warnings to believe that there really is hell and the eternal judgment of God, but it gives us even more reasons and encouragement to believe in heaven. The Bible gives us so much encouragement of heaven that we have every right to be heavenly-minded. Jesus spoke often about the kingdom of heaven. And the Apostle Paul actually encourages us to be heavenly-minded in his letter to the Colossians: “Since, then, you have been raised [to new life] with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” And those of you who are studying the book of Revelation in our adult Bible class know that this last book of the Bible ends with a triumphant vision of heaven, the new Jerusalem. We really do have every right to be heavenly-minded.
So God encourages us through the words of Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 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.” Isaiah’s words are strikingly similar to what John writes in the 21st chapter of Revelation: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” The whole Bible is heavenly-minded.
And God wants us to be heavenly-minded. He so much wants us to be heavenly-minded that he helps us to envision heaven in these words from Isaiah. But it’s interesting that God doesn’t give us an in-depth description of the actual details of heaven. As a matter of fact, while the whole Bible is really heavenly-minded God doesn’t give us too many descriptions of heaven in his word. We get a little description of heaven in Isaiah chapter 6. Isaiah says that he saw God seated on a throne, but the whole experience of seeing God in all his holiness and glory was so overwhelming that Isaiah was afraid he was going to die. Or the Apostle Paul reveals that on one occasion he “was caught up to paradise.” (God allowed him to see heaven). But he adds, “He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.” Our sinful human minds cannot comprehend or long endure the glorious realities of heaven.
But what God has done for us in these words of Isaiah is describe heaven in earthly terms that we can understand and rejoice in. Martin Luther once did the same thing for his son Hans by describing heaven as a beautiful garden with all kinds of fruit trees and ponies and all that children would love. God wants us to think of heaven as a beautiful place where the results of sin are gone forever.
If I were to go around to each one of you this morning and ask you to mention one result of sin that you would like to be removed from this world I would imagine that everyone could mention a different example. Think for a moment. What result of sin would you like to see removed from this world? I know someone would mention death. Who wouldn’t want death removed from this world? Or there would be someone who would mention illness. Who wouldn’t want illness removed from this world – cancer, childhood cancer and diseases, illnesses that lead to pain and death? Some would say they want war to end, no more fighting between peoples and nations. How many of you would like to eliminate old age and the aches and pains that go along with it, the tiredness and the memory loss? Or how many of you would like to have an end to the stress of life and work and replace it with total satisfaction and fulfillment?
This is how God describes heaven for us in these words of Isaiah – in earthly terms that we can comprehend and understand, have an emotional connection to. That’s why God says, “I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.” It’s also why God speaks of the new Jerusalem at the end of the book of Revelation. For God’s people, especially in the Old Testament, but also in the New, there was no better place than Jerusalem, the physical city of Jerusalem. It was their city where the temple of God was located. That’s where they came to worship God and offer their sacrifices. That’s where God met with his people. In their minds and hearts heaven would be a glorious Jerusalem exalted over all the nations no longer attacked or troubled by foreign armies. Last Sunday we sang the hymn “Jerusalem the Golden.” Even for us New Testament Christians a glorious Jerusalem is what we imagine heaven to be.
“The sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in [Jerusalem] no more.” In Revelation John puts it this way: “[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” No more crying and sadness or mourning or pain – that’s what our hearts want.
Or listen to this interesting description of the heaven, the new Jerusalem: “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 years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.” Only a parent who has lost an infant can know that kind of sadness and pain. That kind of sadness and pain will not exist in heaven because no one will die. Or how many of you over 60 years old still feel like a youth? How would you like to reach the age 100 and still feel like you’re 20? That’s what heaven will be like.
“They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.” In the book of Ecclesiastes King Solomon describes all the work and toil of this life as “meaningless, meaningless.” Sin does create a lot of wasted effort and frustration. There will be no wasted, meaningless effort or frustration in heaven. Or how many parents have had the heartache of children who don’t listen or obey, who wander away from God, who end up in misfortune? That won’t happen ever again in heaven.
“Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” In heaven God will be so close, so accessible, that he will know our thoughts and prayers before we think or pray them.
Why can we be sure that we will go to heaven? How do we know we can go to heaven when we die? We can because God has declared peace with us. In thirty-seven days we celebrate Christmas. You know the words the angels sang at Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Jesus came to this world to bring peace between us and God. Sin had separated us from God and would doom us to hell. But Jesus atoned for that sin by his death on the cross. His resurrection from the dead is the proof that God is at peace with us. And through faith in Jesus we are at peace with God.
God describes that perfect peace with these words we can visualize: “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food.” What could not exist together in this world, that is, a holy God and sinful people, will exist in perfect harmony in heaven. Eternal peace between us and God will reign.
And to assure us that we are safe with him in heaven God adds this interesting detail: “But dust will be the serpent’s food.” The serpent’s punishment was to crawl on his belly and eat the dust. Satan will be condemned to hell and will be no harm to us ever again in heaven.
So is the church so heavenly-minded that it’s no earthly good? Not at all! Those are just the words of a disgruntled unbeliever who has no peace with God. The hope of heaven makes life in this world full of meaning and purpose. The joy of heaven leads us to love God and love our neighbor. So don’t hesitate to be heavenly-minded. Try to imagine every day what heaven will be like. Amen.