THE PROMISE THAT KEEPS GOD'S PEOPLE GOING
Dear friends in Christ,
My brother, Ron, thanks all of you who were praying for him prior to his operation for cancer. The result was great. The cancer, the size of a quarter, was non-invasive and no further treatment will be necessary. There is a disclaimer. It is likely to return, so he will be tested every three months. Ron is a year and a half younger than I am so we are both in our sixties.
Someone once said that the decades of our lives are a little like this: the first decade is the decade of the spills; the second decade is the decade of the drills (lots of dentistry and orthodontists); the third decade the decade of the thrills; the fourth, the decade of the bills; the fifth, the decade of the ills (doctor visits); the sixth (51-60) the decade of the pills; the seventh (61-70), the decade of the wills. Better have that complete.
He has not only had cancer surgery, he also had cataract surgery. We are happy to say that God in his grace has allowed all three of the surgeries to be successful. While the cancer surgery was most important and crucial, he can’t stop talking about the cataract surgery. He said his sight went from 20/200 to 20/20. He doesn’t need glasses anymore. He said his life is changed.
He didn’t know how bad his sight was until it was good again. People have said that about their health too. You don’t know how bad you are feeling until you feel good again. In so many ways that is the Christian’s life. God’s Law diagnoses our lives as lost, but God’s Gospel promises that heaven awaits.
Today Isaiah speaks about the promise of heaven. When we get there we will see how far superior heaven is compared to what now. For the Christian this is “The Promise That Keeps Us Going.” 1) There is a promise of heaven; with it is 2) there is a promise of peace.
There is a heaven. This isn’t just a pious wish. The LORD speaks, “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” The Bible is clear that there is a life after death. There is a heaven and a hell. As far as the Christian is concerned, God’s assurance is that we will be in heaven, not hell. Jesus has promised us that. Jesus said that his “Father’s house has many rooms, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and, if I go to prepare a place for you, I will return so that you may be where I am.”
When Isaiah says there is a “new heaven and a new earth,” it us used elsewhere. Does God mean that he will create a new heaven and earth where we will live, or is it a figure of speech? Is it an expression for heaven? After all, there is a heaven now where the souls of all believers go. Actually, what he means is a little difficult to determine, but we don’t have to worry about it! There is a heaven and we are going there. And what a place it is!
He says “the former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” What does he mean by the former things? In my opinion, there is a clearer way to translate these words. The subject is God. God will cause the former things not to be remembered. When we get to heaven our perfect God won’t allow us to remember the former life with sin and evil that were so much a part of it.
I know I am asked the question if we will remember our family members. Will we know our spouses? Children? Parents? Jesus once said that in heaven no will be married or given in marriage. It appears that family life as we know it here will give way to a greater family – the family of God. While a good marriage is a great and wonderful blessing we enjoy while we live on this earth, there is not one that doesn’t have its disagreements and unhappy times. We love our children. They are indeed God’s gifts to us, we do a lot of correcting and discipline because they sin, as do we. All the sin will be in the past and remembered no more. They are the “former” things.
Listen to what Isaiah says next, “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. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.” Note those words, “But be glad and rejoice in what I will create.” A guy goes blasting in a night club and takes the lives of forty nine people and injures as many as he kills. No more! A two year old child snatched from his family by a hungry alligator – no more. The evil and vile world in which we live that can bring so much heartache - its days are numbered. “I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and joy.”
It’s hard to imagine a place where journalists would only report good news because that’s the only kinds of news there is. Yet that is what heaven will be like. No doctor’s offices or hospitals, no vaccinations or vaccines, no chemo or radiation because there will be no disease to treat. There will be only cases of smiles.
The Bible hints at what it will be like. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” This passage always makes me wonder about the question of knowing each other. “We shall know even as we are known.” Jesus knows each of us, we will know each other but not by the sins we did. If that’s the case, some of us will be hard to recognize! ;>)
The apostle Paul, who was taken into heaven and given a preview, said he saw inexpressible things, wrote, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” We will be much smarter than we are now. None of those smarts will be used to connive and manipulate.
The Bible often uses earthly comparisons to what heaven will be like. It often compares heaven to a feast or a wedding banquet. It goes to show how much we will be changed. I am not into the banquets and big feasts; I like quiet dinners. The psalm says, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Think about the phrase “eternal pleasures.” Yet our earthly pleasures are so sinfully selfish. In heaven pleasure will be in service.
Having lived in Orlando for thirteen years the events of this past week were startling and sad. In our congregation we had members who were employed by the Orlando Police Department, but it has been a good while since we lived there. We lived there when Shaquille O’Neal played for the Orlando Magic. Now he is retired and out of basketball. During our time there, we did some church and school expansion. I remember one of the students in our school say to me, “Pastor, when I grow up I want to play basketball and be good enough to go to college and get a basketball scholarship. I want to play so well that the Magic will draft me onto their team. I want to take Shaq’s place when he retires.” Maybe I was giving him an incredulous look, but he said to me, “I will make so much money that it will build our new church.” That made me smile, but most of all I wanted him to stay faithful to Jesus and see him one day in heaven. That is not just a pious wish. It is not a dream of a daydreamer. It is our future. Jesus secured a place for us.
Not only are we promised a place in heaven one day through Christ, we have the peace we are going there right now. The former employees at Glacier Park, Montana of which I am one have a kind of unorganized fraternity. Through Facebook people are always posting photos. Last summer there was a devastating forest fire that burned acre upon acre and millions of trees. The fire came very close to burning a restaurant and motor inn which employs lots of college kids for three months. The fire burned very near, but it did not damage Rising Sun.
In many respects that is the kind of world the Christian lives in. The fires are all around. A maniacal Muslim man pledging his allegiance to radical ISIS guns down people cutting short their opportunity to repent. Many are now saying Christianity bears the responsibility. Yet the person who did this did not profess any love for Jesus. Quite the opposite, he professed an allegiance for a pagan god. The point is, following the Lord is a lot like being at Rising Sun last summer. The world is burning around us with rage and anger and would love to devour the people of God. But the last two verses have a lot to say to us. Once we have a relationship with the LORD, we have a peace with him who really matters. It is a peace here that continues into eternity. “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.”
In a world that rages all around us, we have a God who has encircled us with his love and his peace. He even promises, in a way that only our almighty and omniscient God can, he is working for the good of his church in every, and all instances. We just might have to wait and find out how all he does works. I was riding MARTA the other day and saw all the cranes that are being used to build the new football stadium. With all the activity there I want to see how that building turns out. We can feel hurt and pain in our lives right now, but the Lord guarantees that in the end everything will turn out. Paul wrote our epistle lesson, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” There is peace, total peace with God.
Just before Jesus and his disciple were ready to leave the Upper Room on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Later on he continued, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” There is no denial that this world is not a congenial place to live. In the city of Chicago they average a shooting death every two hours. That doesn’t even include the people who are shot and live. Even the most optimistic person must agree with the person who wrote the following, “We live in a world of ugliness, of sordidness, of meanness, with which we find ourselves surrounded day in a day, a world whose path is strewn with broken hearts and blasted lives and whose graves are watered down with tears of deep and dark despair.” But in Jesus, and only in Jesus, there is peace. The apostle Paul once wrote, “Christ is our Peace.” Paul had been a great sinner. He persecuted the church. But by the grace of God he had come to the shocking realization that in spite of his sins, he and his Father in heaven were on good terms – peaceful terms. God and he were one. Christ had brought about reconciliation. That peace was complete not only for Paul but for everyone. The wall that separates God and man has been removed. It was torn down. The curtain that separated God and man in the great Temple was torn in two. Why? No separation exists any longer. Thanks to Jesus. That’s the promise that keeps us going. We have the promise of heaven, because we have the promise of God’s peace in Christ.