Dec 23, 2023
With His people living in exile and stripped of all they possessed in this world, God encouraged their hearts and supported their faith with the promise of a new heaven and new earth with a new Jerusalem at its center. This new existence will come by the work of the Servant through whom God will remove their sins and cancel their debts. He will make them righteous and restore them back into fellowship with Him. In doing so He will glorify Himself and in glorifying Himself He will fill the hearts of His people with abundant joy! This new city of the new heaven and earth will be filled with happy citizens who know infinite pleasure and eternal delight as they feast on the glory of God!
Amazingly, this joyful experience of God’s glory will take place in a physical world.
18 …behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness… (Isaiah 65:18 ESV)
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. (Isaiah 65:21-23 ESV)
In the new heaven and earth there will be houses, vines, grapes, fields, and art. There will be eating and drinking, sowing and harvesting, creating and enjoying that which was created. There will be buildings and people. There will be a restoring of all that was lost. The curse of sin will be lifted, and God’s judgment removed. The consequence will be a return of blessing and prosperity. The land will once again flow with milk and honey, the vine will produce plump and juicy grapes, and the fields will yield much grain.
This return to a physical Jerusalem takes on great meaning in the words of Isaiah, and provides great light for us.
First, the physical nature of the new heavens and earth legitimizes the use and enjoyment of the physical. Enjoying a feast, delighting in the sweetness of honey, sipping on a glass of wine, delighting in the company of friends, building a house, admiring a piece of art, listening to pleasing rhythms of music - these are good and they are consistent with the glory of God and the joy of His people.
Second, the physical nature of the new heavens and earth clarifies evil and good. Evil is not avoided by denying oneself the pleasures of the physical world. Righteousness is not the capacity to fast. Instead, what is right and good is the enjoyment of the physical world with gratitude to God as the one who gives. Evil is taking the pleasures of the physical world without any regard to the creator and giver. Evil is sitting down to enjoy a steak and baked potato without gratitude in the heart for the one who gives every perfect gift from heaven. The evil man comes to the table and enjoys the food all while harboring contempt in his heart for the host. Righteousness receives the goods of the physical world as means by which it knows and enjoys the giver.
Third, the physical nature of the new heavens and earth teaches us that God’s character - especially His mercy - is known and experienced through the physical world. To come into the new Jerusalem, the people would have to come by way of mercy. They deserved damnation, eternal exile, wrath, and destruction. Instead, the people of God would know mercy. God would remove their sins. By mercy they would enter the new heavens and earth, and with each taste of honey, each sip of wine, and each joyous feast they would experience and know the mercy of God, for all of these come by way of mercy and steadfast love. The good gifts of the physical world serve as warm hugs from the Father. They communicate to His beloved His own goodness, wisdom, mercy, and love.
God’s Servant Jesus Unites the Spiritual with the Physical to the Glory of God.
At Christmas, the church celebrates the night the God who is spirit took on flesh and dwelled among men (Jn 1:14). He entered into this world with physical hands to touch, feet to explore, ears to listen, eyes to observe, and a tongue to taste. He went to parties, enjoyed good food, and admired the beauty of lilies.
During his days on earth, his nervous system not only knew pleasures but also pain. He new the point of nails driven through His hands and the sharp edges of a spear cutting through His side. He knew the soreness of his neck after a long night of sleep without a pillow on which to lay his head. He knew the growling of His stomach from hunger and the stickiness of a thirsty mouth. He knew the bruising of a fist landing on His jaw. He experienced death.
He did so, not that He might take His people out of the world, but that He might take away the sin and the pain. His work does not put away the created physical work or replace the created world. Instead, the great work of Christ is that he sets free the creation.
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21 ESV)
Along with the setting free of creation comes the freedom of our bodies.
23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23 ESV)
Do you see, the great hope given to us in Christ is that one day - in the new heavens and new earth - creation along with our physical bodies will experience renewal so that we experience creation free of sin. We will in that day interact with the physical world in such a way that God’s glory will be seen and known and enjoyed through the goodness of the created world just as He intended in Genesis 1.
Enjoy Pleasures with Thanksgiving and Endure Pain with Hope.
Today we, like Christ, know both pleasure and pain. We know the pain of a splinter in our palm, the sting of divorce, the agony of losing a loved one, the disappointment of unmet expectations, the sweetness of cinnamon rolls, the warmth of flannel sheets, and the sweetness of laughter in the company of friends.
In Christ we are taught to receive the pleasures with gratitude. Each good thing comes to us as a good gift from a loving Father. Each pleasant experience comes to us by mercy, bought for us by the blood of Jesus. Each good thing is cause for gratitude and worship. We are free to enjoy God by enjoying His creation.
In Christ, we are also taught to endure pain with hope. Each sorrow serves as a reminder that this is not our final state. The new heavens and new earth will come, but it is not yet fully here. When pain is our experience we can look ahead with hope knowing that, though we groan now, we will rejoice.