+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Isaiah 65:17-25
Theme: Paradise Restored
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Every single day we are beneficiaries of God’s goodness. But being beneficiaries doesn’t make us proper receivers. God causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the righteous and unrighteous. God gives. Everyone benefits. But not all receive gratefully. Believers should receive in humility. Unbelievers are likely to receive presumptuously. We pray the Holy Spirit would engender in us true gratitude for our faith, life, and salvation, not only on this Lord’s Day, but at all times.
Today gospel promises flow from the prophet Isaiah as if he had seen Jesus with his own eyes. Centuries of separation are no barrier for the scribes of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah is privileged to see- through the eyes of faith- the beginning, middle and end. Everything revolves around the Messiah, the Christ. When He brings this fallen world to its proper end, then true life will begin.
The coming glory of that kingdom is Isaiah’s concern today. The restoration of Paradise will involve harmony that can be grasped now only by faith. Harmony, stability, and vitality are things we have some concept of. Our understanding of these blessings is shaped by experience. We learn to recognize distinctions that inform our assessment of whether something is positive or negative for our well-being. If we can no longer distinguish between love and hate, chaos and peace, good and evil, truth and falsehood, then not only have the Scriptures lost their influence in maturing our faith, but our consciences themselves have become seared. The unbeliever too can distinguish chaos from harmony insofar as the conscience still functions.
Christ makes it clear today that before His Second Coming turmoil in the world will reach unprecedented proportions. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”1 The cause, of course, will be less constraint of the consequences of sin. Ungodliness will become more prevalent. No one will be immune. And no one will be without guilt. Jesus’ words about His return are a sober reminder that we are sinners who should never take for granted God’s mercy. None us deserves His grace.
Dear friends, God promises that in the end all evil will be banished from His presence. It's not easy to grapple with the truth of the eternal punishment of evil. People who depart this life estranged from God will be forever separated from His goodness. Many people think the penalty is much too harsh. It’s an affront to our sensibilities. Devoted Christians too, struggle with the reality of hell. Couldn’t there be another way? Speculation is risky at the best of times. It is extremely dangerous when we make assumptions about matters that relate to eternal welfare. It’s no good arguing with the Almighty. What leverage do we have to define His justice?
In society today we are living under a veneer of ‘godliness’. St Paul warns against those who are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- having a form of godliness but denying its power.”2 The cultural elites present themselves as enlightened, humane, and defenders of the rights of the vulnerable. Meanwhile, greed, power, and control dominate the agenda. Public discourse is often carefully choreographed. The parameters of discussion are changing. Our society talks occasionally about ethics, but not about morality. We are being desensitized to evil but hyper-tuned to political correctness. We are over-exposed to sexuality; and ridiculed for modesty. We are zealous for rights but dismissive of responsibilities. We expect to be indulged, but are reluctant to be self-sacrificing. We want to be served rather than to serve. God is not revered as Creator or feared as Judge.
Dear friends, it’s no good having a distant, disconnected, and dis-embodied Jesus. A do-gooder Jesus relegated to the annals of history is no God at all. A God who is inaccessible is no God at all. A God who is impotent is no God at all. A God who is ignorant is no God at all. But we have a God who has come in human flesh. He has lived, died as our substitute, been raised from death and ascended to the place of power. We are baptized into His name. We are fed with His rich treasures.
We are not set free from sin, released from Satan’s accusations, and spared eternal condemnation simply by God’s general attitude of benevolence. Remember, the sun shines and the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. A listless feeling of good will on God’s part does not save us. We are redeemed by the active and targeted intrusion of a holy God who came to sinful humanity. “He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight.”3 Christ “entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”4 The love of God is not an extrapolation of the hope that more good exists in the universe than bad. Those who rely on the triumph of the inherent goodness which exists in humanity will have their hopes bitterly shattered. Humanity is rotten to the core. We see it in the news every day. We’ve seen it for far too long in the election coverage. And yet people still look to human strength and ingenuity for the ultimate security
But God didn’t intervene by engendering ideals of positivity, equality, and sensitivity. He reached down and planted a cross. He embedded an instrument of torture and hung His Son upon it. The Holy Spirit preaches this gospel into our hearts and there is no other. The Holy Spirit always seeks out struggling souls in the dark corners of humanity. He knows what ails us. He knows the shame, the guilt, the apathy, the regret. He knows the cycles abuse, despair, greed, and arrogance that scar our lives. He carries these burdens and promises to reconcile and restore us.
In Isaiah, He says, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”5 The Lord will commence to illustrate the blessings of this new creation but it is notable that first He says the collective memory will be cleansed. The point is not insignificant. Any possibility of comparison, any longing or yearning for “what was or used to be” will be eliminated from the equation. Our joy will not relate to what was in the old creation, but what is in the new creation.
God will be so attuned to His people that His grace will anticipate their every desire. Isaiah writes, “Before they call I will answer, while they are still speaking I will hear.”6 Even now we have such attentiveness from our Lord. As the Psalmist says, “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.”7 He knows us better than we know ourselves and yet He loves us unconditionally. We certainly look forward to the news heavens and the new earth. But we remember the Saviour is already with us. In Him, the end is just the beginning. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Twenty Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
13 November, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 21:10 2 2 Timothy 2:4-5 3 Colossians 1:22
4 Hebrews 9:12 5 Isaiah 65:17 6 Isaiah 65:24
7 Psalm 139:4