v.17 For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.
Dear friends in Christ, today we celebrate and rejoice in God's promise of the Last Day--and the new creation that He promises to bring forth for His faithful people. Though today is the Last Sunday of the church year--a day which focuses our attention on the ending of this world, yet it is also a day of new beginnings, as we see reflected for us in our Old Testament reading for this morning. For though the Last Day will certainly be a day of judgement when Christ returns in all glory and splendour to judge the living and the dead, yet it is also a day of new creation and a life that will never end for the believers. So, for the Christian at least, this is a day of great joy and celebration, for this is the day in which the fulfillment of our redemption will be accomplished, once and for all.
And yet, if you're anything like me, this day also presents some anxiety and distress. Of course, we wonder what the new heavens and new earth will truly be like--will my favourite lake still be there?--what about my beloved pet? Unfortunately, Scripture is rather vague on these sorts of details. But what tends to cause us the most angst when we think about this day is how we will react and respond to our past. Will we remember the hurts and the heartaches and the sorrows? Will we be haunted by our sins and failures? Will we despair when our loved one is NOT there among us, as we had so long hoped and prayed for? How can we possibly be happy and glad in God's kingdom with all these things weighing on our hearts and minds?
Some of these questions are answered in part in our text. The Lord declares through His prophet, "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind." What does this mean? Isaiah was prophesying at a time when Israel and Judah, God's chosen people, were largely faithless. In visions, Isaiah was given witness to the terrible destruction that would come upon God's people for their crass idolatry. But God also promised to preserve a faithful remnant of His people. And this faithful remnant, though it would suffer and endure the destruction of Jerusalem, would also be given this picture of the promised Last Day, when God would gather them to His side in everlasting glory.
Using earthly imagery, Isaiah attempts to help his generation understand the blessings of eternal life. These promises apply to you and me as well. The blessings of God's new creation begin NOW for believers, though we do not see the newborn physical and spiritual (new body and heaven), yet we believe it. The promise of everlasting salvation is absolutely certain--and so we rejoice in it. Indeed, Salvation is already prepared, but the revelation is merely awaited. Then we shall see what we can only hope in and receive with faith, now.
What are some of these great promises of God? We see that God's people will no longer be overcome by enemies or travail. "They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 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." The point here is that in the new heavens and the new earth there shall no longer be those who can take anything away from God's people. We shall work under God's direction and enjoy the fruit and feasting of God's new creation for all eternity--like the days of a tree that grows and grows without end.
Indeed, this entire text invites us to look beyond this valley of tears and sorrow to witness the promised new heavens and new earth. For on this Day, Death, the great enemy, will at long last be destroyed. God will remake all things new (us and His world), spiritually and physically. The usual circumstances of life and death in a sin-broken world will be cast aside. In the new creation, it is LIFE that triumphs over death! For Christ's resurrection victory will break forth and encompass all of the new creation forevermore. What great joy and bliss! What comfort and peace!
Still, we are left with the nagging question of how our past memories will affect us, once we are in the promised New Eden. Well, in the New Creation, we will completely forget the weeping and futility of living in a fallen world. In their place shall be joy and gladness, fulfillment, and satisfaction. "But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness." Though we, like Jerusalem of old, often cause God great anger and frustration with our sin and rebellion, all of this is removed by the blood of Jesus and the New Creation that brings this old order to an end.
It is the Lord's desire that His people no longer remember or be troubled by their former sins. Our place in the Lord's New Creation has been secured through faith in Christ. Through the saving work of His hands, we have the joy of sins forgiven, and gladness of life eternal. These great acts of salvation WILL be remembered: the perfect life of Jesus on our behalf; His suffering on the cross in our stead; His death and burial in the tomb for three days; and His glorious resurrection! These will be remembered with great joy and gladness, but your sins and mine will be forever forgotten. For they have been permanently removed by the blood of Jesus outpoured, and will be cast into the "Sea of Forgetfulness" as Jeremiah prophesies.
But there is more. For not only will our sinful actions be forgotten--actions carried out against both God and our neighbour--but also all apostates and unfaithful people, the pain and suffering of this world that we have endured--it will all be forgotten. For in God's holy city, the New Jerusalem, "no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress." Sin can no longer touch us, nor can even our painful memories of sin-caused hurt and sorrow. All is cleansed. All is healed. All is wiped clean by the blood of Jesus that bought us back from sin and death and ushered us into this joyous place of peace and salvation.
The curses of Genesis 3 are finally broken. No more intensive labour to put food on the table--we will feast sumptuously at the Lord's banquet Table--partaking of the feast of salvation that shall know no end. Nor will women suffer in child bearing or there be dissension between men and women. All relationships will be restored through the forgiveness and redemption earned by Christ on the cross. And of course, the greatest curse of death will be completely undone. For in the New Creation there is only life and life to the full!
Beloved, do not be anxious or sorrowful at what the New Creation holds for you. Do not worry that your painful memories will follow you into the life of the world to come—not even the painful memories of 2020! God promises to bless you with heavenly memories of great joy and peace. Memories that point you to Jesus and His salvation and love. Indeed, this is already being worked out each time you receive the Lord's Body and Blood in the Holy Supper--for you "do this, in the remembrance of [Him]." Let your hearts and minds be transformed by the good news of God's work on your behalf and His promised new heavens and earth that you will enjoy in His kingdom for all eternity. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.