I MAGINE A WORLD wonderful beyond comprehension. What would such an ideal world look like?
Walt Disney had a vision. The result is Disneyland and Disney World with castles and princesses and goofy characters.
The prophet Isaiah writes to the children of Israel of such a world. They have suffered in exile — they have been removed from their homes and country and forced to live in a foreign land for many years. They have lived in a strange place. They have lost much of their joy. They need hope.
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GOD SPEAKS through the prophet Isaiah and offers the vision for the future. A future far more than anything they can ever imagine. It is an invitation into life as God’s holy people, living in the new Jerusalem. The promise of the new Jerusalem is not just about rebuilding the ancient city. Jerusalem is a code word for the whole world.
The promise is about the kingdom of God. God promises a new heaven and a new earth. They are unlike anything we can imagine. The old life will be gone. We are invited into a new life, a new earth.
Martin Luther King had a vision for the future of America. It was a future of freedom and equality, arising from a land of slavery and hatred. It was a dim vision of God’s kingdom. God’s vision of the future is vast, beyond belief, beyond what the Rev. King could dream.
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AT THE TIME Isaiah writes, half the children die before reaching the age of 5. God promises a new world where the infant death rate will be zero! This was unthinkable.
Until 1900, the average life expectancy barely reached over 30. If a person made it to the age of 15, they may just make it to the ripe old age of 50. In a world where the average life span was 30, or one who was fortunate might make it to 50, there is an additional promise. Fifty-year-olds will be adolescents.
Imagine a world where 100 is the new teen age. It would be like saying that someone would be a teenager at nearly 200 in the United States today. Seriously — imagining 200-year-old teenagers is beyond my thinking, but Isaiah is making a point of God’s kingdom.
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THE GRAND VISION of the rule of God says:
“The former troubles are forgotten.”
Anyone who has read much of the history of Israel — Egyptian toil and escape; grumbling in the wilderness; struggles of the new land; oppression of kings; prophetic warnings to exile into Babylon — those people knew all too well of troubles. A fresh creation is offered to people wearied by the same old troubles that seemingly are as old as creation itself.
In this new creation, “troubles” will be replaced by “gladness” and “rejoicing.” No more weeping will be heard, no more cries of distress. Once Jerusalem was lonely, empty, filled with tears (Lamentations 1:1–2). But now, no infant will die young, and old persons will live full lives (v. 20b).
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BUT THAT’S NOT ALL. Buildings were once handed over to someone else as spoil of war; in the new earth, people will live in what they build. Once crops were planted by one farmer but harvested and eaten by an invader. No more. People will reap what they sow (in a positive sense).
In this future, peace reigns. Even nature reverts to creation’s paradise.
“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together;
The lion will eat straw like the ox … .”
This sounds all nice and good. When will all this come to be? When will we see new life in the new Jerusalem? Twenty-five hundred years after Isaiah writes, we still can’t comprehend this happening.
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BUT THERE’S THIS. We see the kingdom break through:
■ When the addicts who have lived bound and controlled by their desires are set free. Not only set free, but renewed and restored in the image of God.
■ When a Christian and a Muslim sit down to eat and talk.
■ When people band together to begin eradication of malaria in Africa.
■ When cancer deaths are reduced to increasingly smaller fractions.
■ When the hungry are fed.
■ When Habitat for Humanity builds another house.
■ Any time the old is gone and the new has come.
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THESE ARE SIGNS of the reign of God. These are glimpses of new heaven and new earth breaking into the old.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a priest living in South Africa. He wrote a children’s book about “God’s Dream” for the world. It’s a world where people reach out and hold each other’s hands. Sometimes they get angry and hurt each other — but they say they’re sorry and forgive. It’s a new earth where everyone will see they are brothers and sisters, no matter their way of speaking to God, no matter the size of their nose or the shade of their skin.
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ISAIAH 65 IS A SIGN AND SEAL of the certainty of the coming reign of God.
■ It is a divine vision that we can never fail to hold before us.
■ It’s God’s vision reminding us of God’s constant work to make that dream a reality, reminding us of our part in the dream.
After all, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth ….”