Messages of Comfort in Isaiah (Inscription 53)
A New Heaven and New Earth
June 26, 2011
Scripture reading: Isaiah 65:17-25
Jesus is coming!
Q Do you remember the “Jesus is coming on May 21st” thing?
Already we are forgetting it; they got their 15 minutes of fame. He had the entire country talking about the End Times; I even remember hearing employees at Ivar’s in Seattle talking.
Q But what did you feel at the time? Amusement? Fear? Pity?
I felt a wishfulness, wishing they were right, knowing they almost certainly were not. There was small chance they were, about the same as winning Haggen’s mortgage payoff game.
This hope is fueled as I study Isaiah 65. After many chapters of warnings and encouragements, Isaiah looks to the distant future when God will not just restore Jews, but the entire earth.
It’s like this picture, in the same way that God will restore Judah from their exile from Jerusalem, God longs to restore the entire earth from its exile from Eden.
Heaven or Earth
I’ve read this passage many times, but it’s always bothered me; it seems to mix this life and the next:
So far this sounds familiar, in fact Revelation more or less quotes it. But then:
Q Wait, I thought no one died in Heaven, what’s happening here?
There are different interpretations, but that’s not as important right now as the fact that this passage forces us to take another look at Heaven.
Christians in general kind of have this idea that the whole point of getting saved is to go to Heaven. The afterlife is vaguely thought of as a spiritual, disembodied state.
Furthermore, at the end of time, when this world is over, God is going to burn up the entire creation and we will all live in Heaven. The whole idea is to escape this earthly, corrupted life and go to Heavenly spiritual one.
Q What on earth are we to makes of this whole “New Heavens and New Earth”?
To make it worse, “heavens” means the sky, not Heaven (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth.”
· This passage is actually meant to echo Genesis 1:1.
It gets worse: In Revelation, it actually speaks of the New Jerusalem coming down to earth. According to Revelation, we don’t spend the afterlife in Heaven, we spend it on the new earth in the New Jerusalem.
· I could have called this sermon “Everything you know about Heaven is wrong.”
That is of course an exaggeration, but this morning I want to make you think differently about Heaven, and that will make you think differently about this life.
· I challenge how you think; I hope you had enough coffee.
We operate from a perspective that there is a spiritual world and a physical one, and the physical one not quite as good as the spiritual one.
Q For example: Which glorifies God more, eating a dinner with friends or praying and fasting?
Neither, they both have their place and both can either honor or dishonor God. Another example is “The Practice of the Presence of God” and it’s implication that time not mindful of God is less than good.
Q Do you know where we got that idea?
It not from the Bible, it’s from Plato, where this world is a shadow, inferior one, the real life is the spiritual one.
Remember when I talked about the early church’s view of sex as being “less than holy” cf. “Platonic Friendship”)? This is the same platonic idea.
· We carry that idea that spiritual things are better into many areas, including how we view Heaven and earth.
It was (and is) good
In contrast to that, Genesis tell us that God looked at all he created, the stars, the galaxies, the sun, the earth, the trees, the lions, the fish, and said it was very good (Gen. 1:31).
· He has never changed his mind about that.
Certainly sin has messed up the picture quite a bit; he was grieved he made man when he saw our wickedness:
NIV Genesis 6:6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.
But even if we had managed to corrupt the entire earth with sin, we still have barely reached beyond the limits of the solar system, and it is a really big universe out there (Lewis limited it to the moon’s orbit in The Space Trilogy).
Q BTW: Where do we get the idea God made the universe for us?
That is nowhere in the Bible I know of. Yes, we are the highest of his creation, but it’s the height of arrogance to say he only made for our home.
· That’s like saying I built my house to house my favorite book.
Throughout the OT, creation is seen as a good thing, glorifying God by its very nature. It is to be enjoyed and cared for (one of the reasons for the exile was environmental abuses).
· There are things in the NT that seem to devalue creation, but that’s because the Church Fathers read with Greek minds.
And even more importantly, Jesus was raised with a physical body, not a spiritual, disembodied one. He was raised with a real, not simply spiritual body; they could touch and feel him, he could eat a fish.
· The teaching of the early church revolved around the fact that Jesus was physically raised, not simply spiritually.
Not a rough draft
Okay, that is interesting and all, but so what?
Q Let me ask you a question: Do you think that God made this world as a rough draft?
This world was not God’ practice round. This is not the rough draft and Heaven is the real thing. This is the forward of the book and Isaiah 65 is describing the first chapter.
Q How differently we will treat this life if we view it as the forward to the Real Story instead of a rough draft?
What has happened is that Christians, affected by Plato-istic view of the resurrection and “life after death,” tend to view this life as a rough draft and have developed a “it’s all going to burn” mentality. (cf. Elizabeth’s e-mail)
· This is the exact opposite of what the Bible had in mind.
First Corinthians 15 is the clearest discussion of what the resurrection means for us, verse after verse talking about:
· If there is no physical resurrection, we are to be pitied.
· It is the reason we can face trials with hope.
· What our resurrected bodies will be like.
Then he sums it all up by saying:
1 Corinthians 15:58
In other words, because you know that the effects of your labor are eternal, work all the harder. It’s like the difference between decorating your hotel room and your house.
You are going to be in your hotel for one night, you don’t decorate it; you deal with the mass production art and the out-dated furniture.
· You leave a mess, because someone else will take care of it.
But you take care of your house, you furnish it as best you can (perhaps too well) and clean up after yourself, at least if folks are coming over.
This world matters
Here is the big point: This world matters. What you do in your body matters, what we do on this earth matters, what we do with this earth matters.
Let bring this down to very tangible ways that we take care of this house God has blessed us with:
1. What you do with your body matters
Let’s go back to 1 Corinthians 15:
1 Corinthians 15:35-38
In other words: There is a direct connection between the seed and the plant. They are of the same substance, though very different in form.
Our best glimpse is of course Jesus’ resurrection body. As I said before, it was a real body, yet greater than this flesh – Jesus could walk through a locked door
This makes him seem ghost-like, but perhaps the door was the ghostly thing. We can walk through water without changing it, not be because we lack substance but because it does.
· The early church did not cremate and they buried facing East.
Of course, this raised all sorts of questions. One classic one: If a cannibal eats a Christian, then becomes a Christian, who gets the body.
· We don’t know the specifics, but we’re greater than the matter we are made of – even that is mostly cycled out every 7 years.
The point is that what we do with this body matters, even if we don’t understand exactly how it works:
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Q How are you honoring God with your body?
Beware of thinking it doesn’t matter because of resurrection. From what I read in the Bible, you won’t get a mulligan.
Are you filling God’s temple with junk food or eating responsibly?
Do you exercise?
Are you exercising you mind or passively absorbing crap?
Do you dress and conduct yourself in manner that honors the body God has given you?
· No need to be a pycho-health person (or a skinny b, as that book calls it) – all things in moderation.
Again, I don’t know how this works, but if nothing else, Jesus made is clear that if you are not trustworthy with what we are given, he won’t trust us with greater things.
Q If you can’t be faithful even the most basic gift of your body, what can he trust you with?
2. Furthermore, What we do on this earth matters
In the 19th and 20th century many Christians fell into one of two extremes: Focusing on earthly causes at the expense of spiritual, and visa verse.
On one hand some liberal Christians focused on “The Social Gospel,” which was very intent on helping with poverty, social justice, and other such things.
On the other, some conservative Christians focused on saving souls and all but ignoring physical needs.
But Biblical Christianity embraces both. We are called to be the agents of change, to begin to usher in God’s rule now. When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven,” we are offering ourselves to the task.
Q How are we supposed to do this?
I freely confess that I don’t entirely know. Already we use our coffee shop donations for helping with physical, as well as spiritual needs, but I know that I still fall short.
I considered skipping this point because I have not studied it enough to give good answers and recommendations. But all the same, I want to say something rather than nothing.
There is one aspect of this “the earth matters” that I think we do slightly better than average:
Since we believe that what we do on this earth matters, than the Arts matter, beauty matters, not because they can be used to lead people to Jesus, but because our God loves beauty.
· This is part of why we do music as we do it.
Just a reminder, we want to replace all of the Ikea art in this building – we need more art.
3. Finally, What we do with this earth matters
Yep, I am going to go there. As I said, many Christians, misinterpreting something Peter wrote, have developed this “It’s all going to burn” mentality.
Furthermore they totally distort God’s mandate to care for creation:
The picture is not one of destroying, strip mining, polluting, and pillaging, it is one of bringing order to the chaos. It is like coming into horrendously overgrown garden and ordering it and making it fruitful.
· God intentionally left chaos so that we could mirror him and bring order and beauty and bounty.
A properly cultivated space will be better, more diverse, and more fruitful than a wild one.
Earth is waiting for us
Q You think I am making this up to be politically correct?
Creation itself is looking forward to its resurrection, when God will make a new Heaven and earth. That doesn’t sound like “It’s all going to burn,” does it?
· In the same way that there is some continuity of substance even if the form is very different.
Like us, creation will still be creation, but no longer subject to decay. Again, if this creation will be transformed into something eternal, how much more careful should we be with it?
And because we have a proper perspective, that does not worship the earth as God, but values it in proper proportion, how much better of a job can we do than the hyper-environmentalism that wants us to all live in teepees and stop having babies?
· I don’t think I need to give specifics; sadly the world has done a better job than us at this stuff.
To wrap it all up, I hope that I have really made you think, because in order to act differently, you first need to think differently.
Then you need to pray differently, to repent for how you mistreat God’s creation, fail to be an agent of change on earth, and how you devalue your body,
· PPT: Please text Janna, her service is almost over: 333-4505
Q & A