It’s better than that
It was the last straw for Israel. Really, I guess there were a lot of last straws – that’s what you get when you have such a patient and gracious God. You could go all the way back to the time of Noah when it was the last straw. The promise of the Savior, first given to Adam and Eve was in danger of being snuffed out. No one remembered it. No one believed. Noah and his family were the only ones who still remembered the promise, still believed in the Savior. And if generations were allowed to continue, that promise would have been lost along with every generation after. God sent the flood to preserve the promise. However, after the flood, humanity continued its downward spiral. You see how wicked prominent cities like Sodom and Gomorrah were at the time of Abraham. But God would not destroy the world by a flood again. Instead, he put a hedge around his promise. He gave his promise of the Savior to a family, which became a tribe, which became a nation. God set the nation of Israel apart from all other nations on earth by making them stand out and different – by giving them special laws to follow and special festivals – many of which foreshadowed the Savior himself. Israel continued in this way for a time. They were brought out of Egypt by God. The were governed directly by God, and then through administrators, called judges, and finally by kings. And although God held this nation together by his constant presence and by his laws, humanity continued to do all it could to tear itself away from God.
This continued all the way up to the time of the prophet Isaiah. At this time God was still reaching out with mercy and salvation, “all day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people” (Is 65:2) God said, but things were beginning to change. The way Isaiah saw it, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags… No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins” (Is 64:6-7). And the way God would give them over to their sins – the way God would judge their obstinance – would be to have them overrun and overturned by Assyria and Babylon.
The previous 2 chapters of Isaiah are really a final prayer before this destruction. A final prayer by the few remaining believers that rebellious Israel might be brought to repentance and be restored. Isaiah 65 is the answer: It’s too late. They are far too gone. This presents a conundrum. God had promised the Savior would be from the tribe of Judah, from the family of David. Yet he also threatened to end his covenant with his people if they would continue to reject him. In order to carry out both his threat and his promise, God would use the captivity in Babylon to filter out the overwhelming majority who were unbelievers and to refine the small remnant who trusted in the Lord with all their hearts. To them he would restore the land, where they would rebuild the temple under Nehemiah, and pass on the promise of the Savior once again.
After sin and unbelief was met with death and destruction, the remnant of believers could thrive in the promise of the Savior. So, Isaiah prophesied what God promised, “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered nor will they come to mind” (Is 64:17). Isaiah’s prophecy is twofold – as is often the case with prophecy. There is a partial fulfillment for the immediate audience that Isaiah was speaking to, but there would also be a complete fulfillment which is found in Christ. The difficulty is, the prophets often didn’t distinguish between the two. It’s like God revealed to them a picture of the future without the depth perception of time. As if you were looking at something with one eye covered – no perception of depth. So, on the one hand, Isaiah was prophesying to that small remnant of Israel that still believed, after the destruction from Babylon, there will be restoration. You will be brought back to this land anew. “[You] will build houses and dwell in them; [you] will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will you build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat (Is 65:21-22). You will live in safety and peace. Yet, on the other hand, Isaiah is also prophesying about the far greater and far more indescribable joys of heaven that every believer will enjoy – a remnant from every generation saved from the evil around it.
Look around and it’s plain to see that we aren’t there yet. No one around us calls on God’s name or strives to lay hold of him. He’s hidden from the vast majority of people and it seems more and more that he has handed us over to our sins. Like the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, you need only look at our major cities and coastlines to see that we are on the same downward spiral of sin. Hellbent on pushing God out of our lives. It’s so prevalent that even for God’s children, who want no part of it, are surrounded by it. Only with great effort can you keep your life pure and free from the influences of sin – from the allure of it as it’s flashed up on every form of media, and in your face every day. To you and me the same warning goes out that Isaiah rang out long ago. Again we have become an obstinate people. Again we walk in evil and continually pursue the desires of our own imaginations. We trust in things, rather than God. We make time for our kids, but not for our Savior. Again an end is promised – a judgment upon every sin and every sinful person. This judgment will be the last one. The Savior has already come. God is gathering his children home. When it’s the last straw this time, it truly will be the last straw.
That’s why, believers on earth are often called a part of the Church Militant – as opposed to the Church Triumphant in heaven. You and I are still fighting the good fight of faith. You and I still require, every day, the armor of God or we too would so quickly be consumed and destroyed by sin. Look around and it’s easy to see, we definitely aren’t there yet…. We definitely aren’t there yet. Sometimes it’s enough to just make you hang your head at the end of a long day and ask, “How long, O Lord?” I’m not sure I can stand it any longer. How long, O Lord. Come quickly to help me.
Just as he sent the Savior at just the right time, he will return at just the right time. And when he does, you and I get to rejoice because it will finally be done. You will be spared from the coming judgment. Because the Savior has died – faced the Father’s wrath for your sins and died the death of a sinner so that you could rise as on eagles’ wings on the last day. You know your fate because Isaiah’s prophecy is for you. “I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more” (Is 65:18-19). You are the remnant, spared for heaven when the judgment comes! Never to see evil again.
You know how you know? Because when you were brought to the font, God adopted you – placed his name on you when you were baptized and claimed you as his own beloved child. You know because every time you gather here, around the altar, with fellow members to receive Christ’s body and blood you are refreshed, renewed, forgiven. You know because every time you read his Word, he confirms these promises to you. He forgive you your sins, strengthens your faith, and promises to you the joys of heaven.
It’s indescribable, really. I think you can get a sense of that peace. As a parent, used to what seems like constant chaos at times, I had the opportunity to try out a pair of Bose, noise canceling headphones. It was when we were having dinner with another family and more kids. As I slipped those headphones over my ears the chaos was silenced, soft piano greeted my ears. And for a few seconds at least, I was at peace. I think that’s what the last day will be like – whether it’s Jesus’ return or my own last day. The weight of my burdens, the aching stress, the constant battle with my own sinfulness will all just melt away and be silenced. Then a new song will begin. A song of peace like you’ve never known. A song of joy beyond comprehension. Because finally you have triumphed. By the grace of God and by his power you will have moved from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant for all eternity.