Last Sunday of the Church Year (Isaiah 65:17-25 )

foolish virgins knocking at door

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Last Sunday of the Church Year + November 24, 2019

Text: Isaiah 65:17-25

When Jesus came the first time, He gave the world a preview of the new heavens and the new earth.  God walked with His people, speaking with them face-to-face. He healed their diseases, cured their uncleanness, and raised their dead.  Parents received back their children, Mary and Martha received back their deceased brother healthy again. All of these miracles were not just for the private benefit of those individuals; they were recorded for us, so that we would know that God is actively at work restoring what sin and death destroyed in this world.

These wonderful signs even continued into the ministry of the apostles, as God used these powerful signs to verify their authority as representatives of the risen Christ.  But it wasn’t long that the stream of miracles dried up. God had given them as a signal that He had broken into His creation to restore it to what He wants it to be—and will be forever.

As I mentioned on All Saints Sunday, the Divine Service is something from which we have to depart.  The time of fulfillment and nearness of the Kingdom gives way to waiting again. Yet, just because we are made does not mean God has forgotten us.  His promises are just as sure as they ever have been, from the minute sin and death came into this world, to the final trumpet.

So God has spoken to you and me by the prophet Isaiah today to affirm His promise to you, of redeeming and restoring creation:

17  “For behold, I create new heavens 

and a new earth, 

and the former things shall not be remembered 

or come into mind. 

18  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. 

19  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. 

The Creator of all is making all things new in Creation. He is restoring His creation to its proper glory, including you and I.  This transformation will be so momentous that how things are now will fade to black. Imagine that! The things which haunt our dreams and keep us up at night, which choke up our throats and make our hearts sink…instead of being heavy on our minds, will be outweighed by the glory of eternity!

St. Paul describes it this way in Romans 8, 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  And when we consider our present sufferings and longings, it seems almost too good to be true to hope that those burdens will be no more.  But the Holy Spirit convinces us to believe it, even though we have not seen it yet, because we know God does not lie.

The Day is coming when the Lord Jesus will restore to us what sin and death has robbed us of:

19  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. 

20  No more shall there be in it 

an infant who lives but a few days, 

or an old man who does not fill out his days, 

for the young man shall die a hundred years old, 

and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. 

Mothers who have lost your children, He will wipe every tear you have shed.  Widows, who have lost your life-long companions, your aching will be stilled.  God is going to destroy the last enemy—death itself (1 Cor. 15:26). Death and Hades must give up the dead in them (Rev. 20:13).  There will be no more funerals, no more grieving having to give up the ones we hold dear. The tragic and vain course of this world will be no more!

21  They shall build houses and inhabit them; 

they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 

22  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. 

23  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. 

One of the frustrations of this life is the ultimate futility of our life’s work.  As much as we try to hold onto a legacy, it can easily be forgotten, absorbed into the Medicaid coffers, or wasted by whoever comes after us.  As Solomon laments, 18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.” (Eccl. 2:18-19)  The vanity comes when we try to hold onto it in this present world.  Instead, we’re made to wait until our Lord’s return and the resurrection, because only then will the work of our hands endure.  But it won’t be for our own pride, to have buildings and cities named after ourselves, but for the glory of God who removes the curse of death.  Humanity will endure forever.

24  Before they call I will answer; 

while they are yet speaking I will hear. 

25  The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; 

the lion shall eat straw like the ox, 

and dust shall be the serpent’s food. 

They shall not hurt or destroy 

in all my holy mountain,” 

says the Lord

This passage speaks to something that is already true today—that God hears and answers before we answer.  We recognize this in part, and there are moments when we can connect our prayers to God’s answer. But often our faith flags and the next time the day of trouble comes, we worry that something will prevent God from hearing and answering.

The full realization of this intimate conversation will be when calamity is removed from us.  The danger of creation will be removed. The evil of this world will be cast out, as the Lord says “[angels] will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.” (Matt. 13:41-42)

Whatever place mosquitos, black widows, ticks, or infectious diseases play in this world, they will not be dangerous in the world to come.  With the curse of sin and death removed, there will be nothing harmful left. Can you imagine the wolf and lamb grazing together? The lion eating straw, but this is what God ultimately, eternally, intended for his creatures.  

Remember the One who promises these things to you.  It’s not a man, who could fail you. It’s the same God who fulfills all that He promises, from the beginning and wondrously brings these things to pass in spite of what our eyes see today, what our minds are capable of conceiving, and what we could achieve by our own ability.  The seal placed on this is “Thus says the Lord.”

And as the wise virgins, who heed the bridegroom’s call [Matt. 25:1-13], may we ever say, “Yes, yes, it shall be so. Amen.” (SC Lord’s Prayer, conclusion)