The prophet Isaiah and the book of Revelation provide a vision of God’s New Creation, a peaceable Kingdom where people live in harmony with one another and with all of God’s creation. In a world that is groaning for redemption, the Church is called to live as a foretaste of the New Creation, where God is making all things new.
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Isaiah 65:17-25, Revelation 21:1-5
When our daughter Emily got married about 4 years ago, I wasn’t too involved in the planning. I let my wife Karen take the lead in working with Emily, and I just nodded my head in agreement and got out the checkbook and credit card.
But one thing I was involved in was the day when we went to sample the food at the restaurant that was going to cater the meal. We sat at a table and they just kept bringing out plate after plate of dishes for us to sample—chicken, beef, fish, vegetarian, one right after the other.
We got a very scrumptious foretaste what the food would be like at the wedding.
When you go to the movie theater, before the feature film starts, you sit through about a half an hour of trailers for upcoming movies. You get a sneak peek, a preview of what those movies are going to be like.
The scriptures today from Isaiah and John’s Revelation give us a preview, a foretaste, of what God’s vision and plans are for the world he created. It’s a beautiful vision of a New Heaven and New Earth, a New Creation.
In Isaiah’s world, this vision was sorely needed to give the people of Israel hope. Isaiah wrote his words around 700 BC, and during this time the Israelites were divided into two kingdoms—Israel in the north and Judah in the south, where Jerusalem was located.
These two kingdoms were in political and national decline—partly due to their straying away from God’s law of how they should live, and partly due to being trampled upon by the more powerful empires around them.
It is in the midst of this dark and despairing situation that the prophet Isaiah enters. Isaiah speaks to the sin and failures of the Israelites and also their oppressors. And then he also prophesizes about the coming of God’s coming servant, the Messiah, who is the light of the world, the true hope for justice and peace.
In fact, the book of Isaiah is often referred to as the “fifth gospel” because of its repeated emphasis on the coming the Messiah, who we Christians know as Jesus. So many well-known scriptures that we hear during the Advent and Christmas season come from Isaiah. We will hear some of them in the coming weeks.
And maybe we could say that the book of Isaiah is the “second revelation”, since our two scripture passages today are so similar. Both the Isaiah 65 and the Revelation 21 describe this vision of a New Creation that God desires for the world he created.
And like we talked about with the children, this new creation involves fixing, rebuilding, and restoring the world to God’s original design when he created the world.
This is a different vision than what some of us were taught about the book of Revelation. I think I’ve mentioned how when I was in college I was influenced by dispensationalism and its view that the world was going to completely fall apart and be destroyed before the new creation would come.
Wars and famines and droughts and violent storms were all signs of the “end times” So basically you just let the world literally “go to hell” in order for prophecy to be fulfilled.
In the community that I grew up in in a suburb of Los Angeles, most of the time when one of the older houses is sold, the new owners come in and completely level the existing house in order build something brand new.
They call these places “tear downs”. On the small street that my family’s house is, there have probably been about 7-8 tear downs in the last decade or so.
But I don’t think God’s vision for the world is that it be one huge tear down. The way I understand Isaiah and the Revelation of John is that the new heavens and new earth are not just something we passively wait for, but something that we actively work toward and bear witness to.
In a recent issue of Christianity Today magazine, a professor at a Nazarene seminary named Dean Flemming wrote an article called Revelation in Focus that I found really helpful in understanding the message of that book:
Flemming says that:
Instead of primarily foretelling the future, Revelation calls us to live as a foretaste of the future here and now. It enables Christian communities to embody God’s loving mission…even as we anticipate the time when God finally makes everything new.
John’s picture of the New Jerusalem reveals God’s ultimate purpose for the world—the flourishing of humanity and all creation when God’s presence drenches the whole earth.
What a beautiful calling for us as Christians and the church- to contribute to the flourishing of humanity as a foretaste or sneak preview of the New Creation that God is going to bring about that will drench the whole earth!
And then Flemming asks, “What does New Jerusalem hope look like?” And he answers that question by saying it is both a place where there is healing in community, and restoration in creation.
Isaiah and John talks about the New Jerusalem as being a place where people are filled with joy and gladness. They say that the weeping and mourning and cries of distress will be heard no more, that God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
It’s a world where babies will not die prematurely from hunger or disease, and people will live to a ripe old age. One translation says people will live to be as old as trees.
It’s a world where people will be able to settle down into a home where they can work the land, enjoy the fruits of their labor and make a decent living without being exploited.
God’s vision of the New Heaven and Earth is a world where lions and lambs, wolves and sheep will be able to graze together, where all of God’s creation lives in peace and harmony, where no hurt or destruction takes place.
The hymn we sang earlier, Sing a New World into Being, gives some beautiful descriptions of this new Creation—2nd verse: “where each gender, race and class, brings its rainbow colors to God’s limitless embrace, where lines that once divided form instead times that bind”.
It’s a peaceable kingdom as some have called and painted it.
Here’s one depiction of the Peaceable Kingdom by John Swanson.
Sometimes we look at the world around us and it’s hard to see signs or even imagine this vision of the peaceable kingdom that Isaiah and John describe. It seems more like a chaotic kingdom than a peaceable one!
All around us, instead of flourishing and peace and harmony, it’s easy to see the exploitation of God’s natural creation and exploitation of other people,
When we interpret the call in Genesis to have dominion over creation to mean dominate and exploit it for our own personal gain and pleasure, then the result is what we see all around us—
Polluted rivers and oceans, extinction of animal species, decimation of forests, depletion of the ozone layer, and wars over greed for land and power.
It grieves me to see that some of the most vocal deniers of climate change are Christians. It’s easy to get discouraged, cynical, and lose hope for the future of our planet.
But if we look around us, there are signs everywhere of individuals and religious groups, governments and Non-government organizations, that are providing a foretaste of God’s new creation,
by bringing restoration and healing and hope to communities and to our natural environment in significant and beautiful ways.
Here are some that come to my mind:
Right now, leaders of nations around the world are meeting in Egypt for COP27 – a Conference on Climate Change. President Biden is there and is supporting a plan to call on every major emitting nation to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In Bolivia, where we used to live and work, Mennonite Central Committee is partnering with local grassroots organizations high up in the Andes mountains to adjust to changing climate patterns by experimenting with new crops and creative ways of irrigation, so people can stay on their land and live sustainably.
When we were in Italy recently, we went to a vineyard called Pomaio. Before WWII it was a farm that grew a variety of crops, but after the war, it was abandoned and not used for several decades. It is now a thriving organic vineyard with a winery.
There’s Doctors without Borders, which provides medical care all over the world in countries where people are in desperate need of basic medical care.
There’s World Central Kitchen, founded by Spanish chef Jose Andres, that sets up makeshift kitchens to serve hot meals to people displaced by war. I just got an email update from them yesterday which said they have already served over 175 million meals to Ukrainians affected by the Russian invasion.
There’s the foundation that Steve and Cindy Fogleman are connected with called Iraqi Children’s Foundation, which supports groups on the ground in war torn areas of Iraq. They recently got back from a trip to Iraq, and I heard a bit about what kind of work they support.
One of the projects is a care center for girls experiencing emotional and physical trauma in the city of Mosul. It’s a safe place for the girls to find healing with help of social workers and physicians.
There are groups like Community Peacemaker Teams, or CPT, formerly known as Christian Peacemaker Teams.
They recently changed their name because they have broadened into a multi-faith network of people, Christians and others who do spiritually-based peacemaking, creative public witness, nonviolent direct action, and protection of human rights.
When I was in Israel-Palestine a while back, we visited a Palestinian village in the West Bank which was near a newly built Israeli settlement. People from the settlement were harassing the villagers by poisoning their goats, and also throwing rocks at children on their way to school.
CPT organized a team of people to accompany the villagers, advocate for them, and work for peaceful resolution of the harassment they were experiencing.
Of course, there are efforts right here in our midst of living as a foretaste of the new creation. Here at Daniels Run Peace Church, We have a garden that people from the community use to grow their own vegetables.
We have solar panels that help provide energy to our building and two electric car charging stations available to the community to help reduce our carbon footprint.
We also have a landscaping guru, Cory Suter, who works to create a harmonious environment by planting native plants and all kinds of edible bushes and trees. (Most recently blueberry bushes by the fence around the new playground!)
And we have helped in the resettlement of a number of Afghan refugee families during this past year. And worked at building friendships across cultural and religious differences to learn to live in peace with those different from us.
There are so many ways—big ways and seemingly small ways—inside and outside of the church—that we can get a foretaste or a preview of God’s mission to bring about the New Creation.
I would guess that each one of us, if we look at the work that we do during the week, and our involvements in our schools and communities, we could see ways that we are living as a foretaste of the God’s New Creation, how we are being a light in the midst of the darkness in the world.
Not only those who are in the helping professions, but however you make a living, there are ways to bear witness to God’s New Creation, where people are treated with dignity and compassion, and you help them to be healthy and flourish in so many different ways, how you are helping to sing this new world into being.
The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans talks about how the creation is groaning, it’s longing to be redeemed. And seeing all these ways that people are partnering with God to bring healing and restoration are signs that the groans are being heard and responded to.
And this gives us hope, and the inspiration to continue to being faithful in using our energies and our resources to continue working toward God’s promise of the new heavens and the new earth.
Can we proclaim as John did that “God is making all things new!?”
Of course a big part of John’s vision in Revelation is that Jesus will reign over this new creation. John describes Jesus as the lamb who was slain, the one who sacrificed himself for the sake of all of humanity, and now who is the only one worthy to receive glory and honor and power, because he was with God in the beginning creating all things. John uses the image of Jesus sitting on the throne and unrolling a scroll to symbolize Jesus’ place as the Lord over all of creation, from the beginning until the end.
We’re going to hear a song by Andrew Peterson called “Is He Worthy?” which proclaims Jesus as the one who is worthy. At a certain point in the song I’m going to invite you to stand and join in singing along with the rest of the song.