Last Sunday of the Church Year| Rev. Rolf Preus| November 21, 2010| Isaiah 65:17-19
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people; the voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying.” Isaiah 65:17-19
In a cemetery in the middle of Racine, Wisconsin there is a tombstone on which is inscribed this question: “Why did a good God create a bad devil?” I saw the tombstone a few times when I served as pastor of a congregation in Racine, and whenever I saw it I wondered about the thinking of the fellow – presumably the deceased – who decided to have it inscribed on the tombstone.
The simple answer to that question is that a good God did not create a bad devil. The good God has never created anything bad. In fact, when he looked on the world he made in the beginning he saw that it was very good. It was not God who brought evil into this world.
The devil chose, by his own free will, to defy God and rebel against him. Once he rebelled he was caught forever in his rebellion. There is no redemption for the devil and his demons.
And Adam chose, by his own free will, to defy God and eat the fruit God commanded him not to eat. Once he rebelled he was likewise caught in his rebellion. But unlike the devil and his angels, there was redemption for Adam and his children. We are bound by sin from birth but God sent his Son into the world to redeem us. We were created in the image of God and when God the Son took upon himself our flesh and blood he did so to restore to us the image we had lost.
God doesn’t create sin. God doesn’t tempt anyone to sin. The evil in this world is not God’s fault. It is the fault of sinners. When we see injustice, needless suffering, and bitter weeping by people without any hope we never have the right to blame God for such human misery. He didn’t do it. He cannot be held accountable for it. As St. James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)
God is not the author of sin. The wages of sin is indeed set by God and it is death. But the holy God would not be holy if he could embrace sin, sustain it, encourage it, and cause it to increase. He must punish sin. The curse God pronounced upon the world after the original sin must remain on this world and in this world as long as there is sin in this world.
Every once in a while a group of Christians decides that the world is simply too evil for them to live in it any longer. So they establish societies or churches to separate themselves from the evils of this world. They set down strict rules, forbidding the kinds of entertainment that might lead people into sin, avoiding contact with contemporary music, art, and other influences.
They are sincere and well meaning, of course. But they ignore a critical fact of life. Whenever such groups form, severing their connections with the world and living off by themselves, there is always something they bring into their community, something they cannot keep out. They bring in the sin that lies within them. They bring into their holy and separate community the sin in their own hearts. This will inevitably infect their holy and separate community just as it infects the whole world.
We cannot create heaven on earth. As long as we live here in this world we will be living in the midst of sin, death, disease, sorrow, and every kind of evil that comes from being sinners in a sinful world.
That’s a depressing thought, perhaps, but only if we have already put our affections on the things of this world as if what it has to offer is what we treasure the most.
The Psalmist declares:
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)
If only we could love God as we should. If we could find our greatest delight in knowing him, enjoying his presence, being filled with his wisdom, and being embraced by his love! What we yearn for is no mere dream. God has given us this desire to know him and love him and he will create a place where this knowledge and love will shine within. It will bring us a joy unimaginable on this earth.
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
The new heavens and new earth will be a place where no sin can enter. No sin and no death and none of the former things that brought us sorrow will enter in. For this will not be created by the work of human will as well meaning but misguided Christians try to create their own little heaven on earth – no, this will be a completely new world in which no sin will enter. No sin will enter because the sin that stuck to us, that plagued us – the inward sin that infected our desires, our thoughts, and our actions, leading us into all kinds of outward sins – will be gone. It will be purged from us. There will be no memory of it. It won’t bother us. It won’t lead us. It won’t accuse us. It won’t ever bring us down. Sin will be entirely purged.
For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people.
We, Christ’s Church, are Jerusalem. The Church is the Creation of the Holy Spirit, as we confess in the Creed, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and giver of life.” The life of faith we enjoy is the life created by the Holy Ghost. The very fact that we can trust in Jesus as our Savior and believe his words is because the Holy Spirit created that faith in our hearts. Without the Holy Spirit our hearts would be cold and unbelieving. By his power through the gospel our lamps are lit, lighting the way into the wedding celebration. The fact that Jesus lived and died for us and took away our sins on the cross would have left us dead in our sins if the Holy Spirit had not come to us in the gospel, enlightened us, and brought us to faith in Christ. The faith in our heart is surely the creation of the Holy Spirit.
But more than that, he will create us anew. He will rid us of all sinful desires or thoughts. On the last day when Jesus returns to judge we will be raised from the dead and changed. St. Paul describes it in these words from 1 Corinthians 15:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:50-54)
When our dying bodies are finally rid of all sin they will become bodies that cannot die. We will put on immortality. And in our new and immortal bodies we will stand before God as a great joy. He will delight in us and we will delight in him. He will not remember anything bad we ever did and neither will we. There will be no weeping and crying because there will be no sorrow. Sin and evil won’t even be a memory. What we had received through faith will be ours by sight. What was hidden under the cross will now be fully revealed.
When Christians suffer pain and losses, there are several passages from the Bible that fairly leap off of the page – to be read to comfort them in their need. One of those passages is Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Note the preposition. “In us.” Not for us or to us, but in us.
Here on earth where we live until death or Christ’s return we should not look for comfort or assurance in us. We should look to Christ for us, as he suffered and died for us on the cross to take away our sins. We should look to the words of God to us as he speaks life into us with the words, “Given and shed for you for the remission of sins.” But in heaven we will be able to enjoy in us the glory of pure innocence and love.
Never again will we want to run away from God. Never again will we want anything opposed to God’s holy will. Not by coercion or bribery or trickery, but by the almighty love of God in Christ our Savior we will be recreated as a joy for our God. In this newfound innocence we will find perfect joy.
This is the hope of the Christian. It is a solid hope, based as it is, not on the foundation of our obedience, which is sinking sand, but on the foundation of Christ’s most holy obedience to all of the demands of God’s law and his innocent suffering and death in our place. The suffering of Jesus for us is our greatest joy in this life because this is what will bring us eternal joy in the life to come.
This is why we wait with patience for that day. We don’t know when it will be. Date setters come and go while Christ’s words remain: “For you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” We don’t know. We don’t need to know. We don’t want to know. We know him who by his blood has guaranteed to us our eternal home. And we pray to him, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.”