Lions Eat Straw
Introduction: The preceding chapters have set the stage with a rapid movement between descriptions of redemption, sin, and confession. Isaiah 59 reveals the radical sinfulness of man (2-8), the need for a deeply penitent heart (9-15, and God’s ability and willingness to redeem such sinners (1, 15-21). Chapter 60 gives a picture of Gentiles coming to Zion and bringing their wealth for God is the glory of his people. Those who do not come to worship will be “utterly ruined” (12) whereas Zion will be an “eternal excellence.” Its people will be righteous and will dwell there forever (21). Chapter 61 paints a riveting picture of salvation from the Messiah who will be “clothed with the garments of salvation” and is “covered with a robe of righteousness” (10). Isaiah 2 presents Zion, Jerusalem, as a “city not forsaken” but instead “sought out” (12). The importance of Jerusalem as representative of the remnant of the people who will be secured by God may be seen in verses like 1 Kings 11:13, 36, 14:21, 15:4, 8, 24. Isaiah 63 shifts the picture again giving a full dynamic of the way in which this time of favorability will be established. There is a time of judgment in the interests of salvation (1-6), remembrance of mercy (7-14), a period of deep repentance and desire for restoration (15-19). Chapter 64 continues this prayer with sustained intensity for restoration accompanied by a recognition of depravity (5, 6): “We need to be saved. But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” In chapter 65: 1-16, God distinguishes between his acts toward his elect and toward those that he leaves in their sin. “My elect shall inherit” the land of promise, while the condemned shall “leave your name as a curse to my chosen” 9, 15). The former troubles will be forgotten
I. The Final and eternal blessings of the redemptive grace of God (65:17-19)
A. Our text begins with a view of the eternal state, bringing it forth in terms of the “new heavens and the new earth.” This expands the thought of 51:16 where God assures protection for his people so that he might “plant the heavens, lay the foundations of the earth, and say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’” Also we look at texts in 66:22, 2 Peter 3:13, and Revelation 21:1 and conclude that Isaiah has in mind the final state of joy in which the earth that has been subjected to a curse (Genesis 3: 17-19; Romans 8:19-22) is restored to an incorruptible state. The former things, those of the fallen world and living in the corrupt and hostile environment of fallen men will be gone from our experience. They will “not be remembered or brought to mind” in a way that produces substantial spiritual or emotional stress.
B. Now (verse 18) the Lord points to the culmination of the glory of his dwelling place by creating a new Jerusalem that will be the location of undiluted joy in the divine presence.
- It will be unending, for he says, “Rejoice forever in what I create.” Jerusalem had been the place that God set aside for the special recognition of his presence and as the city of his faithful king, David. Jerusalem now finds fulfillment in the continual and undiminished presence of God (Revelation 21:2-5). The people, the remnant, the chosen ones, may rejoice without fear of any calamity interrupting their joy.
- Paul contrasted the Jerusalem below with the Jerusalem above, saying that the “Jerusalem above is free.” The writer of Hebrews, in encouraging the persecuted Christians among the Jewish community, made their entrance into the Jerusalem above a matter of present reality. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first born who are enrolled in heaven” (Hebrews 12:22, 23). Though they still were in the process of having their goods confiscated, their lives threatened, and making prisons their homes, the future was so certain and so glorious that the writer said, “You have come.”
C. Also God himself rejoices (verse 19) in the new place of residence which he creates and in the people for whom he has created it. “I will also rejoice and be glad in my people.” Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you and will come again to receive you to myself” (John 14:2, 3). He was speaking of how he would fulfil Isaiah 65:19. Everything that caused pain and sorrow, all the immediate results, the remote results, the interim results of sin are gone. No longer will there be the sound of weeping or crying. So is the promise of Revelation 21:4.
II. How grace transforms the present in anticipation of the coming redemption. What kind of impact should this hope have on our life in the present? (Verses 20-23)
A. The image of death is transformed by the future reality of the New Heavens and the New Earth (20). Isaiah mentions infants, the aged, and the youth finding death as an anomaly to their new environment.
- The writer is not saying that infants will be born there and will all live to at least a hundred years of age. In this life, infant death is one of the saddest experiences that families can have. That is one of the “former things” to be remembered no more. No one will fear the sudden and untimely intrusion of the enemy death for it is finally defeated. Paul wrote, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is you victory? O death, where is your sting?’”
- Even in this life, based on the absolute confidence we have in these revealed truths about death and its defeat, and our faith in the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, the redeemed look forward to and have confidence in the demise of death and the complete absence of the shocking sadness caused by the untimely invasion of that enemy.
- So we find in the present substantial healing from the oppression of sin by grasping the promise of the new creation. In fact, when we sense these things with biblical eyes, we will confess even in the fallen world that “we are of good courage” desiring to be away from the body and at home with the Lord, but whether here of there, we make it our aim to please the Lord. Already, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:6-9, 17).
B. The image of invasion of home and stealing and destruction of property will not exist there (21, 22). Passages in this prophecy had forecast that destruction of homes and vineyards (1:7-9), but the danger of such judgmental invasion is now gone. God has saved his people and gives them safety and homes already prepared for them. They will constantly be occupied with joyful and fruitful labor and everything to which they put their energy will have a commensurate advantage: “My chosen ones will wear out the work of their hands.” As already mentioned, Jesus himself has prepared a place for us, one of the many mansions that are in the Father’s house. Also, the glorified body will be the place of our dwelling, “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1, 2).
C. The curse of labor will be gone and the calamitous falling away of children will be impossible there. We will never have to say, “He did evil in the sight of the Lord. . . . He reigned in Jerusalem eight years, and to no one’s sorrow, departed” (2 Chronicles 21:6, 20).
- There is no “second law of thermodynamics” in the new heavens and the new earth. Here we are accustomed to wasted energy and wasted work and spend time and money to establish efficiency in our labors. Christians work in this world to the glory of God in whatever their calling; in the new earth, in the new Jerusalem, however, all labor will be for God’s glory and the fulfillment of Paul’s admonition will be visible: “Therefore my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15: 58). Whatever work there is to do in the new earth will be done with absolute efficiency and pure delight. “They will not labor in vain” (23).
- We have great hope that the Lord will bless our own children of flesh and blood with the graces of regeneration, justification, and perseverance and so bring them to this new Jerusalem. They have been born into a family in which the gospel is prized and taught. They have set before them the means through which God brings salvation. We pray that these means will be effectual while we realize that these children of the flesh also are “children of wrath like the rest of mankind.” We know that the children Christ gained by his death and those who have truly found salvation under our witness will not come to calamity.
- In John 17 Jesus prayed for those whom the Father had given him out of the world. Of those given to him for eternal life, he lost none (John 17:12). Hebrews 2:13 pictures the Lord as the destroyer of death and the devil for the sake of those given him. He would bring “many sons to glory” and be able to announce to the Father, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” None of the children Jesus came to save will be lost, for “they are the offspring of those blessed by the Lord,” specifically children of the anointed one, the Messiah.
- Paul labored intensely and incessantly that those who heard and professed to believe the gospel under his ministry would finally be found among the justified (1 Corinthians 12:11-21; Galatians 4:17-20; 5:2-6). In this labor, Paul considered himself a father to those who by the gospel were born again. “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15). Seeking to keep them secure and warn them against falling away, giving them tests by which to examine themselves called for unending extension of energy and perplexity of mind (Galatians 3:1-3). That sort of labor, sorrow, frustration will not be present in the new Jerusalem for all work here is done with the certainty that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
- We view also the great chain of divine certainty in bringing to glory and to eternal life all of the foreknown and predestined by God (Romans 8:28-39). “Foreknown” refers to God’s having set his productive love on these persons beforehand and seeing them through every aspect of difficulty and challenge in this life. For the sake of his own love and for the sacrifice of Christ (32) he has determined that nothing shall separate them from that love granted them in the eternal counsels of redemptive decree. By sovereign decree manifest in the protection of sovereign power and wisdom, the chosen are adopted as children of God. (39; Ephesians 1:4, 5). “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Revelation 21:7). Those who seek to find children of grace through the ministry of the gospel will not “bear children for calamity.”
III. The immediacy of God’s presence and the absence of any harmful thing in that final state (Verses 24, 25).
A. In this world we pray with confidence according to the word of God. We may follow the examples of prayers that appear throughout Scripture (e.g. Philippians 1:9-11) as well as the principles we find in the Psalms. We have the promise that “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14, 15). We find an instance, upon the humble prayer of Hezekiah, that the Lord said, “Because You have prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard” (2 Kings 19:20). We pray in confidence of being heard and with as much knowledge of the will of God as we can discern, but sometimes we live in obscurity of perception. Answers may be immediate, or may be delayed, or we have missed any clear knowledge as to how to pray. In the new Jerusalem, however, “Before they call, I will answer; and while they are speaking, I will hear,” says the Lord. His presence is immediate, and our desires so correspond with his glory that every desire of the heart finds expression in grateful submission to the Lord.
B. All things that present dangers in this world will be transformed into things that bring delight and serve as evidences of the perfect peace that has swallowed up the curse. Satan will be consigned to the place of his curse (Revelation 20:10). “There will no longer be heard in her the voice of weeping and the sound of crying” (19).