New and Improved

Based on Isaiah 65:17-25 we learn how we are God’s New and Improved children.  As his new creations and as the people that he has chosen to live with him forever, we have a New and Improved place to spend that eternity with him!  November 10, 2019.

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It used to be that they would just tell you what time it was! But that’s just what an “old school” watch would do! Now, they can tell you the time, answer your phone call, send a text message, tell you what the flavor of the day is at the local frozen custard place, give you directions to the nearest frozen custard place, tell you how many steps it took you to get there and once you get there it can tell you who sings the song that’s playing in the lobby!! You could say that watches are New and Improved

Your phone is New and Improved. Remember when used to have to listen the dial tone, spin your finger around in circles 10 times, and then stand no farther from the wall than that coiled up phone cord would allow you to stand. Now you can take phones with you in your pocket. They are touch screen, voice-activated, multi-function devices. A lot of people don’t even use the phone feature of their phone anymore – it’s just a text-sending, game-playing, direction-giving, internet-accessing, problem-solving, question-answering device.    Phones are definitely New and Improved.

God’s words to us today are delivered by the prophet Isaiah. He was a man of God who spent his ministry preaching to a people in dire need of improvement. They were the same old Israelites, living the same old sinfully-stupid lives!! They were making the same mistakes and putting their trust and hope in all the wrong places! Isaiah was surely getting tired with his same old message of judgement on God’s people. And you better believe that God was serious about the threats. God had been warning his people for hundreds of years – shape up or the hammer is coming!!  

Nothing helps a child shape up like seeing a sibling getting punished. When there’s chaotic chatter in the classroom, it only takes one child losing recess time for the rest of them to catch on that the teacher is not messing around. But that’s not how it worked with the people that Isaiah pastored.

It wasn’t enough for them to watch their cousins in the Northern Kingdom wiped from the face of the earth. It wasn’t enough that the very same Assyrians that God used to enact his judgment on Israel came knocking on Jerusalem’s door. It took an act of God to turn them around, the Angel of the Lord came at night and killed 120,000 Assyrian soldiers, because it wasn’t time for the Southern Kingdom yet!! You might think that a close call like that might be enough to scare them straight! You might think that such obvious divine intervention might be enough to wake them up, but it wasn’t, and it didn’t!  Same old people, same old problems!!         

That was Isaiah’s ministry. Retell the old threats to an old and rebellious people, a people who couldn’t be scared straight – they were just going to have to learn for themselves. They were so filled with Pride! They didn’t need God! They preferred to go-it-alone!! Isaiah wanted them to believe his preaching, repent of their sins, turn from their evil ways and be restored into God’s good favor, but they wouldn’t listen! They continued to live in rebellion. They continued to rely on the strength of foreign nations instead of the God Almighty!  They insisted in living their way and acting like the godless nations around them, and it was going to cost them everything – their homeland, their temple, their freedom! Isaiah was right, but they wouldn’t listen!!      

The nation of Judah was content to ignore Isaiah and go on with their lives…until they couldn’t! It started happening again, this time it was the Babylonians that would come and would conquer! The people began to see the dominoes fall, as they witnessed the beginning of Isaiah’s words coming true. You can imagine how their pride turns to despair! How foolish to have trusted themselves over God. How foolish to have thought that they could avoid God’s wrath. Where would they turn now?

Just going through life feeling pretty much in control? Living with a go-it-alone type of attitude. Putting more trust in a nation’s power than the God who gave that nation its power. Turning religion into a series of boxes to check instead of heartfelt dedication to the Lord. Does that sound familiar to you? Does that sound eerily accurate to the way that we so often live? We hear the warnings of the law, but we feel “That’s not really for us! God’s not really going to do that, not to me!”     

Or maybe we are like the people of Judah 100 years later as Isaiah’s words are coming true. We endure the consequences of our sin. Our pride is coming home to roost. Our stubbornness has left our lives utterly broken and we are running out of places to turn.

That was God’s hope for his people – that they would run out of places to turn and look to him. But the vast majority of them still didn’t learn or listen. They didn’t put it together why God said what he said through Isaiah or why he made good on his threat. They saw God as an angry God and even in captivity, they continued their rebellious ways.

We are pretty slow to listen to God too. We don’t often understand what his plans are either, even when we are stewing in the mess that we’ve made of our lives. Even when we are plagued with guilt, doubt or fear. God wants us to run out of places to turn, but too often we find any place but him! 

Just like Judah, we are in desperate need of improvement. We are the same old sinners committing the same old sins. Next verse same as the first! We deserve the fate of the people of God who refused to turn to him! We deserve to be separated from God not just geographically, but spiritually and not just spiritually but eternally!! We deserve to be removed from his promises and his presence. We deserve to have him turn his back on us and never look back.

But God didn’t do that to the Israelites, and he doesn’t do it to us. Though separated by 2500 years, he saved us both in the same way – by keeping his promise to people who didn’t deserve it! Isaiah announced hope to desperate people. He announced deliverance to those who would put their trust in him. Even though the masses would reject him, God reserved a remnant of people who would look to him and live. He brought that small remnant back and restored to them a land, a temple, a Jerusalem. He brought them home! They would rebuild the city walls and rebuild their homes and rebuild the temple. Through them Judah would be New and Improved

But all of those things are little compared to the biggest and most important thing that God rebuilt for them. He gave them a New and Improved relationship with him. He put faith in the hearts of those stubborn and rebellious people. He opened their blind eyes to see him and opened their deaf ears to hear what he had planned for them!! And he opens our eyes to see and our ears to hear the same thing and he gives us the same hope!     

And it was through that remnant of now faithful people that Hope would be born. Hope for a desperate people was born to a virgin and was laid in a manger. Hope was worshiped by shepherds and wise men and praised by the angels. Hope was born at Christmas. Mary and Joseph were descendants of people who came back from Babylon. God’s people were New and Improved, because that’s what he caused them to be!! Those people were the living proof that God keeps his promises, and through them his Son would be born - the embodiment of love. Jesus would be the one who would be the fulfillment of the best of God’s promises. Jesus is the one who came to fix what sin has destroyed.   

And by fixing what sin has destroyed, he fixes us. He is the One who lived in our place. He is the Improved and Perfect human who fully obeyed God’s law for us! No longer just another sinner in a line of sinners, Jesus was different! He was the “New and Improved Adam” who came to undo what the first Adam had done. He came to earth to carry our guilt and take away our sin! He is the one who came to bear God’s wrath and to endure our death! He is the one whose blood could pay sin’s curse, and so he came to be our substitute and Savior. He came to offer his life as the price that could save us from death and so he willingly laid down his life and died!

Price paid and promise fulfilled, Jesus was raised to new life. Jesus was raised - New and Improved!   No longer in a state of humiliation, where he humbly set aside his power as God. Now Jesus lives in exaltation – he resumed the full use of his power and glory. No longer was he confined by the restrictions of our flesh, now he lives in perfection - gloriously bearing the scars of victory in his hands and feet!! And because Jesus was raised New and Improved, now that’s precisely what we are. Connected to him through faith and clinging to his promises, and forgiven in his blood, now we are New and Improved

Through him and through faith in him, we now have a New Man living in us – that believes in the promises of God and lives according to them. That New and Improved Man seeks to worship God all our days and strives to serve him and others always. It’s seeks to live our genuine lives of genuine thanksgiving.  That’s why Paul says in 2 Corinthians, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  (2 Corinthians 5:17).       

And because we are New and Improved in Christ, now God looks at us differently. That is why God says through Isaiah: 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.  I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people.

 

Think about it! What does God take delight in? Not arrogance, unbelief or sin! But God has changed his people. He has changed the hearts of his children and washed us clean. Jesus’ work in our place means that now God can take delight in his people can take delight in us! 

And it’s not just Jesus and not just us that are New and Improved. Our future is New and Improved.    We’ve been so fully forgiven that The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. That’s the way God says it through Isaiah! God through Jeremiah says it this way: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more(Jeremiah 31:34).

Marvel at that truth! The God who knows everything has forgotten your sins!! The God who knows all, doesn’t recall your past, he knows only what Christ has done for you! He knows you as New and Improved – washed clean and made holy in the blood of Christ!   

And as his New and Improved children, as his new creations, and as the people that he has chosen to live with him forever, we have a New and Improved place to spend that eternity with him!  For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth. And there in our New and Improved existence, we will find joy that we’ve never known. In the new heavens and the new earth, the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

Sometimes a churchy word like “forever” gets lost in a reading or maybe we grow familiar and somewhat deaf to it, but this is forever!!  

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.

 We will never stop rejoicing!! Nothing can take away our gladness! Heaven is happiness without end!  An eternity of joy with Jesus that no one can interrupt, and nothing can destroy!! Unending bliss in the New and Improved reality that heaven gives!! 

The scars of our lives in this sinful world will a thing of the past. That’s the old life! In heaven it’s New and Improved.  The old realities of sickness and disease – gone forever - only glorified and perfect bodies remain. The trauma of the consequences of our sinful ways, cast away forever – now it’s perfect and unending harmony with our Savior King!! The pains of broken relationships and heartache of disagreement and resentment plague us here, but heaven is New and Improved. Heaven is a place of unmatched peace. That’s why God says that:  The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. Peace like this world has never known is ours in the new place that God is preparing for us!   

The heaven that God has in store for us is so much better than anything that we have seen or known. It’s better than what words can describe. Even the words New and Improved while true, really fall short. Maybe the words that Paul quotes serve as a better summary of the hope and joy and peace that will one day be ours. Maybe his simple yet awe-inspiring description is the best way to put joy of heavenly hope on your face and in your soul. Try not to smile when you hear it!  I bet you can’t!    

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on November 10, 2019