YOUR BEST LIFE THEN
- Where problems are a thing of the past
- Where paradise is permanent
Based on Isaiah 65:17-25
So how did you feel on Wednesday morning? The elections were over, the results were in, and the make-up of the next round of our local, state, and national leaders was clear for the most part. Like just about any election, half of our nation woke up with delight, and half woke up with disappointment.
Perhaps it is a happy coincidence that after a tough election process last week, the Bible readings for this week take our minds off this world and place our thoughts in the next world. That’s helpful both for those who are happy with last Tuesday’s election results and for those who are disappointed with those results. It’s safe to say that political differences of opinion do not change the fact that people with different opinions still want what they believe to be the best for our nation. But even if every election and referendum goes your way, you will never be able to achieve a perfect and problem-free society in this sinful world. That simply doesn’t happen now. That happens then—on the other side of the grave, forever in heaven. Your best life and your dream existence won’t happen now. Your best life will be then. And Isaiah helps us to appreciate that point in the First Lesson for today’s service. Your best life is coming then, in heaven, where problems are a thing of the past, and where paradise is permanent.
The second half of Isaiah’s book was written to the ancient people of Judah who would find themselves taken captive by a foreign nation. The homes they had built were vacant. The fruit in their vineyards was dying on the vine. The hopes they had for their children’s future had been dashed. It wasn’t a happy picture.
Isaiah knew his audience well. So did the Holy Spirit, who inspired Isaiah to write these words. To underscore the future reality that problems will be a thing of the past in heaven, Isaiah described heaven in verses 21-23 in these terms: “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them.”
When we know the background of the people that these words were first written to, we can appreciate Isaiah’s word pictures of the problem-free existence of heaven. But he doesn’t only speak in terms that his ancient Jewish audience could relate to; he also uses metaphors that anyone from just about any era could appreciate.
Look at verse 24: “Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” You know you have a well-established relationship with someone when they finish your sentences before you finish your sentence. Isaiah tells us that in heaven, our perfected relationship with God is not one where we’ll wonder whether or not he hears us; he will answer us before we’re even done with our sentence. Even now on earth, we know he always hears us, but from our perspective we wonder or doubt if he really does. But those thoughts won’t creep in our minds on the other side of heaven’s doors, where there is no doubt of the close relationship that God’s people will enjoy with him for all eternity.
Here’s another picture of heaven’s problem free-existence that we can readily understand. Verse 25: “‘The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord.” Wolves and lambs don’t eat together; wolves eat lambs together! But in heaven’s problem-free existence, nothing in all creation has hostility toward anything else. And that’s specially so because Satan, the ancient serpent who tempted our first parents, will be forever confined to slithering through the dust heap and ashes of hell.
There’s one more artistic word-picture that Isaiah paints in this section, and this one deserves a careful look so that we can understand it clearly. Look at verse 20. “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.”
Isaiah is painting a prophetic and poetic picture of heaven, where problems are a thing of the past. We can understand that when he says that infant mortality will be a term that’s forever erased from our vocabulary. But what about some of the other language in this verse: An old man will always live out his years? A person who dies at 100 will be thought of us a child? A person who dies short of 100 will be considered under a curse?
Remember that Isaiah is using poetic language to express truths that we really cannot fully comprehend. We have head knowledge that heaven is perfect. We can confess the truth that we look forward to the life of the world to come. But can you really, fully absorb that thought in a world where everything and everyone decays and eventually dies? Not really. And so Isaiah paints a word picture in terms that average human beings can appreciate.
Isaiah is not saying that people will die in heaven. Here’s what he is saying with his poetic language: Can you imagine a world where there is never a tragic story about someone whose life was cut short? Can you imagine a world where a 100-year-old person looks like a teenager without acne? Can you imagine a world where someone who died at the age of 98 or 99 would be thought of sadly, because their life was “cut short”? This word portrait is the opposite of life in this world! Forty may be the new 30, and 50 may be the new 40, but 100 will never be the new 20. So rare is the person who reaches 100 that when that happens, it’s likely to be reported as a story in the local paper. When someone dies in their 90’s, we say that they had a long and rich life, not that they were robbed of their youth. When we look at the big picture of Isaiah’s unique and poetic words, we see that he is teaching us that sin’s worst effect, death, will also permanently be thing of the past.
A famous television preacher wrote a book several years ago called, “Your Best Life Now.” The premise of this preacher’s book and theology is this: If you say positive things, then positive things will happen in your life. The same is also true, according to this preacher, when we say negative things. The words you say actually control what happens in your life.
I doubt I need to convince you that those claims aren’t true and that they aren’t biblical. But sometimes I wonder if we don’t unwittingly fall into our own variations of that kind of thinking. If I just find the right job and the right employer, my life will be better. If I just listen to the right advice, my life will be better. If I just marry Prince Charming, I’ll live happily ever after. If we just elect the right people, our nation’s problems will melt away. If I just get the right education, my life will be happy and prosperous.
In our own ways, we also think that we can make our best life now. But that’s not going to happen, because despite our best efforts and intentions, there is one problem we can never eradicate this side of heaven, and that’s sin. The reason I can’t have my best life now is because my life and your life and the world is infected with sin, and no education or dollar amount or program in society will ever be enough to undo the sin in my heart and its consequences.
But Isaiah isn’t talking about our best life now. He’s talking about our best life then, in the future—a future that is ours because Jesus gave his perfect life for us then, in the past. No education can remove sin from my record, but God teaches us in his Word that Jesus became one of us in order to be our Savior from sin. No payment would ever be enough to redeem us from sin’s hellish prison, but Jesus offered his life into death on the cross to fully redeem us from sin. No program that human begins come up with will make this world perfect, but the astounding resurrection of Jesus from the dead means that we too will rise one day and be brought by Jesus into heaven’s astounding gates—where sin and guilt are a thing of the past, where headaches and heartaches will never affect us, and where we’ll enjoy our best life then.
We’ve already seen how difficult it is to express the concept of heaven in poetic language. The limits of language and of our own life experience make it difficult to describe a life without any problems. The same is true when we try to describe heaven’s permanence. But let’s listen to what Isaiah teaches us about our best life then, where heaven’s paradise is permanent. “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 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.”
When God says through Isaiah that he is going to create “a new heavens and a new earth,” it’s helpful if we understand heavens as the universe—everything that surrounds this globe on which we live. The heavens (or universe) and the earth are the total existence that we know. Heaven, the perfect paradise to come, will be like a brand new “heavens and…earth”—an existence that is completely new and improved to perfection.
Sometimes artists picture heaven with clouds and wing-clad, white- saints strumming their harps. Isaiah pictures heaven as the gathering of God’s people in the ancient city of Jerusalem. That makes a lot of sense when we realize that Jerusalem was the location of the temple, the most identifiable gathering place of God’s people in the Old Testament. And this is what God’s gathered people will look like: “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.” Joy that doesn’t end. Tears and temper tantrums gone forever. The reasons for our sadness and sorrows will not only be gone forever, but they will be forgotten forever!
That’s hard to wrap your mind around. Headaches come back. A pill might take away our aches and pains for a while, but not forever. Surgeries might help our health for a time, but only for a time. Buildings wear down and need repairs. Natural disasters destroy what we have built. Wealth gets wiped away with a downturn in the housing market or stock market. We may find ways to deal with problems or put them aside, but they never totally go away.
But the gathering of God’s people in his permanent paradise will usher in an existence that you and I might have a hard time relating to now, but we will have no problem enjoying then. Does it sound appealing to be heading for a world where depression and anxieties are replaced with happiness and delight forever? Does it sound promising to be heading to a world where the doctor’s office is always closed because pain and disease are gone forever?
The One who carried your sorrows to the cross and the One who defeated the deadly diseases of sin and death by his resurrection has given you proof positive that the perfect and permanent paradise that Isaiah describes here is not some nice religious metaphor to give you a little psychological comfort on bad days. No, the One who rose from the dead for you, Jesus Christ, assures you that by faith in him you too will truly rise from death and truly enjoy the permanent paradise that he has secured for you.
Next summer, our church body will host its eighth National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I’ve been to all but one of those conferences. Without fail, when the final concert is finished and the last hymn has been sung by the crowd of well over 1,000 people, it seems like no one wants to leave. Ask the people who attend why they take their time to leave the campus, and they’ll invariably tell you something like this: It was so beautiful. It was so inspiring. It was so peaceful. It was a little taste of heaven.
If a conference of our church’s best musicians and singers gathered together for four days is so inspiring and beautiful that few want to leave and most call it a taste of heaven, then the picture of heaven that Isaiah paints for us today is one we can look forward to with joy and confidence. If a “little taste of heaven” is something that people don’t want to leave from, then how much more will we be happy to enjoy the problem-free and permanent paradise that God has prepared for us. What comfort to know, especially on our less than ideal days in this world, that your best life is yet to come then. Amen.