January 5, 2003
At the beginning of a new year, a high school principal decided to post his teachers' new year's resolutions on the bulletin board. As the teachers gathered around the bulletin board, a great commotion started. One of the teachers was complaining. "Why weren't my resolutions posted?" She was throwing such a temper tantrum that the principal hurried to his office to see if he had overlooked her resolutions. Sure enough, he had mislaid them on his desk. As he read her resolutions he was astounded. This teacher's first resolution was not to let little things upset her in the new year!
A new year does not necessarily mean a new future, but you are never going to stop living. There is nothing you can do about that fact. All you can do is prepare for the kind of future you want. You have a future and it will last longer than the year 2003. One of the issues you have to consider is: how much of your past are you going to drag with you into 2003 and the future?
Some of us, as we look at our past, see repeated cycles of defeat. Our fear is that these habits of failure will take up the majority of our future. We have this fear because we have learned that human effort is not enough to break out of deep patterns of spiritual breakdown.
How often have you resolved to get out of debt and before another month has passed, you have used a credit card to soothe an emotional disturbance? How many times have you decided to diet...after the next holiday? Ever determined to avoid degrading entertainment, only to find it has more power than you do? Then if you add booze or drugs or porn or gambling addictions to the mix, you really know what repeated cycles of defeat feel like. Some this morning may have reason to believe your future looks like your past and that thought is frustrating you.
The people of Israel had their own history of cyclical defeat and revival...repentance followed by backsliding. They started with Joshua in the Promised Land, determined to obey God. Then the allure of the sensual and impious and corrupting would lead to backsliding. God, in mercy, would bring them back - then the next cycle of temptation and sin would start in.
Ultimately the warning for unfaithfulness to God spelled out in Deuteronomy came to pass. Israel was defeated and scattered to the four winds. Even then God had mercy. In the closing chapters of Isaiah a small remnant of Israel is celebrating a kind of second exodus out of captivity in Babylon. No Moses, no miracles, but they were coming home! They were to be brought back to the land of promise. This would be a great chance for a new beginning. They could celebrate the miracle of a new future.
But as chapter 65 opens, God reminds those who are coming back of their history of failure. It is kind of like being reminded that you have a history of defeat with pornography, drugs, or your temper. It is a reminder that human resolve is no match for sin. It is a reminder that every time I've started over I've fallen again.
God is bringing Israel and us to a place where we can admit we are powerless over sin. Because of sin our lives are unmanageable. This is bad news. But once it is acknowledged a new door into the future is available. We can now begin to look for a power greater than human resolve. When we realize we can not help ourselves we can start looking for outside help. At this point the lavish love of God can be allowed to have an influence.
Read Isaiah 65: 17-25
God provides the possibilities of a new beginning- without the burden of lurking cycles of defeat. Memories of those failures will be healed. It is a miracle of a new future. Three blessings are a part of your future, if you chose to put your confidence in God's Messiah: joy, abundance, and peace.
First, let me say the beginning of the new future (new heavens and new earth) was established when Jesus the Messiah defeated death. It will be fully achieved at His Second Coming. In the mean time, we live between the day after D-Day and V-Day. Because of the resurrection, Satan and sin and evil are doomed. Followers of Jesus share in the confidence of ultimate victory while we continue the battle.
The consummation of the promised blessings is still coming- but living in the mean time (between the beginning of the end and the end itself) - those blessings can touch us in ways that provide significant nourishment. Isaiah 65 talks about the new heavens and the new earth being a place of (1) joy and delight; (2) a place of abundance and long life; and (3) a place of peace. It is a kind of living that starts with faith in Jesus. The Bible says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a New Creation; the old is gone, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
In this life we can begin to experience joy, abundance, and peace. Jesus reiterated each of these promises for His followers. In John 17:13 He prayed that His followers would "have the full measure of my joy within them."
Peter spoke to people like us when he said, "though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy." (1 Peter 1:8)
If you know Jesus you can know the flavor of the joy of Heaven. On that day when you see Him face to face, that familiar joy will engulf and saturate you.
Isaiah also promised abundance. Jesus said, "I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). When you become a follower of Jesus, you immediately become a student of the undying life. In John 8:51 Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word (like a good student would), he will never see death." He told Martha, "whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:26).
Isaiah also promised peace. Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
If you and I are going to live effectively in the joy, abundance, and peace of God, our distant future must make sense to us. Is your ultimate future a time beyond your physical demise- something real enough that you can make decisions today based on those plans?
For the follower of Jesus, abundant life is always growing on our horizon. This present universe is just one component in our long life in the Kingdom of God. The resurrected Son of God Himself said, in my Father's home are many rooms...I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may be where I am" (14:2-3).
Isaiah and Peter and John in Revelation describe this place as a new heaven and a new earth- the miracle of a new future! You are never going to stop existing. There is nothing you can do about that fact. You can do something about what kind of future you will have, however.
Those who do not enter the joy, peace, and abundance of God, through confidence in Jesus will still experience eternal existence. Because we've been created in the image of God we are everlasting. But the Bible describes that everlasting existence as isolated and a place without hope.
This is possible because these people have chosen to be their own ultimate source of authority (god) and disregarded the one legitimate authority (God). Obviously that posture can only be sustained at a distance from God- a place isolated from real hope.
The invitation to you in the mean time is to enter the new heavens and the new earth. To experience this prophetic promise it takes more than a kinda-sorta faith in a vague higher power. It requires a focused confidence in the person of Jesus - the one who died for you! Don't diminish the sacrifices of the Son of God. You have a future. Will it be a repeat of past defeats stretching into eternal hopelessness, or a life of joy and abundance and peace provided by the eternal and intimate presence of Jesus?