The people of Israel during the time of Isaiah were facing tough times. After 60 years in captivity in Babylon, a remnant of Israelite survivors, battle worn and world weary, was allowed to return home. Whey they came back from Babylon, though, what they found was not very promising. Nothing was the way they remembered it. Everything they had built had been destroyed. They had returned home, and their homes were no longer there. Coming up with a plan for moving forward was not easy.
I think here about all the people in Louisiana who were evacuated due to flooding, and of the people in California and Washington who have had to flee their homes because of the fires. They left their houses and their belongings and had to wait patiently, not knowing what was happening to their possessions, until it was safe to return home. Some people went home to find everything as they had left it. Others came home to find a house still standing, but many things destroyed and a massive clean-up and restoration to undertake. And of course, some returned to find everything gone.
We know what this looks like. We watch people go through this on television practically every day. So we can imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites.
It was to this type of situation that Isaiah spoke the words from his sixty-fifth chapter. As I’ve already said, this was an extremely difficult circumstance in which to speak. And as we’ve talked about over the last few weeks and again today, we can all understand this. What do you say when people are in crisis, when they’ve lost everything, and the future doesn’t look very promising? What could the Lord, through the mouth of Isaiah, say at this point that would help these returning refugees?
Isaiah says that he has been listening carefully for the voice of God, and God has spoken. Through Isaiah, God speaks a word of hope and promise to the chosen people: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight” (Isaiah 65:17-18, NRSV).
What do we do when things go wrong, when our lives fall apart, and we don’t know what to do or where to turn or how to keep going on? What do we do when life seems to have backed us into a corner and we simply can’t find the strength or the courage to go on? What do we do?
We run to God. Because God is the only one we can really count on to turn things around. God is the one we can trust to make all things new.
- A new heaven and a new earth.
- A place where God is so near that “before they call, God will answer, and while they are yet speaking, God will hear.”
- A time when “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, the serpent’s food shall be dust, and they shall not hurt or destroy on all God’s holy mountain.”
- A word of hope from God, through Isaiah, to the people of Israel, during their most desperate hour.
All of the people we serve need to hear promises of hope from God from time to time; and this week, as we wrap up this seven-week series on dealing with disasters, affords us a great opportunity to speak God’s promise of hope. We need to remind our members of the power of God to heal even the most broken and damaged things imaginable. They need to hear the promise that God is so powerful, so loving, so amazing, and so steadfast that literally nothing is beyond the possibility of God’s healing. God IS able to make all things new in any situation. They need to hear that, to feel that, to KNOW that, so that they can be strengthened for whatever trial lies ahead.
“Listen,” says the Lord God. “Hear what I’m saying to you. I am about make all things new. Everything from the past will be forgotten. The slate will be wiped clean, and you will be completely freed from even your memories of this time. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight” (Isaiah 65:17-19, author’s paraphrase).
In the New Testament Revelation of John, the author captures a similar sentiment when he writes,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them,
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21: 1-5, NRSV)
People need to hear these words today just as surely as the Israelites head them 2500 years ago. They need to hear a word of reassurance and hope from the Lord our God.
Some of the folks that you preach this word to will be, right at this moment, in the midst of a terrible situation. They may be facing something that you, as their pastor, don’t even know about. And they desperately need to hear this word of hope from the Lord God. More than anything, they need reassurance that there isn’t anything that God can’t heal or restore. I urge you to say in the strongest way possible that God is able to make all things new, no matter what the problem is.
In this Scripture, the Lord promises healing, not only for our personal needs, but for our communal needs. As we look around at our communities, our nation, and our global neighbors and see so much brokenness, it may seem impossible to believe that the wounds of this world can ever be healed.
I think about the split between Israel and Palestine, North Korea and South Korea, India and Pakistan, the U.S. and Iran, England and Ireland, the dire situations between so many nations and tribes on the African continent and in Latin America; and the list goes on and on. That is just the brokenness among the nations.
Consider also the sense of mistrust and even hatred between Muslims and Christians, Muslims and Jews, Jews and Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, liberal Christians and conservative Christians, orthodox Jews and reformed Jews, Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims, Republicans and Democrats. How can this broken world ever come together and become a place of freedom and peace for all people when there is so much division and hatred and anger? How can we love our brothers and sisters when we think they’ve got it so wrong?
We’ve been on a long journey these past seven weeks alongside our predecessors in the faith and the prophets God sent to help them through disaster. We have confessed our grief and taken time to lament. We have heard about coping strategies. We have received hope and promises of restoration. We have been urged to wait patiently during times of trial and been reminded that God has provided rituals to help us through. We have been challenged to not lie down and give in to the destruction, but to stand up and begin building anew. And we have been promised by the resurrection of Jesus Christ that God will make all things new.
We can’t make the world into a place that is free from hate, free from strife, free from suffering and death, free from evil, or free from disaster. We surely can’t. But our God can. God can create new heavens and a new earth, a place where the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
We have to believe this. We have to believe that in Jesus Christ, new life is possible, and in him, God really can make all things new. We have to believe this. God help our unbelief.
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