July 4, 2011 David Balzer

Isaiah 65:17-66:24: Your heart’s desire

Sometimes it seems like you have TO WAIT FOREVER for your heart’s desire.

Robert Moffatt was a Scottish congregational church missionary to Africa in the 1800’s. He met his future wife, Mary Smith, in Scotland in 1815. And they became engaged shortly before he set sail for Africa in 1816.

But it wasn’t until THREE YEARS LATER that Mary was able to join him. And they were finally married in Cape Town. They ended up having a successful ministry all over southern Africa being involved in a wide range of activities, as well as raising ten kids.

It must have been hard for Moffatt as he worked away in Africa for those three years. A stranger in a strange country, counting the days for his fiancé to join him. No colleagues. No helpers. Struggling with language, with culture, with sickness and hunger. For THREE YEARS, no one to share his troubles with. No one to enjoy his successes with.

Sometimes it seems like you have to wait FOREVER for your heart’s desire.

And for Israel in 500BC, struggling away under foreign oppression. Longing for God’s deliverance. Longing for peace and freedom and fullness and relief and restoration. It must have been hard to keep hoping for their heart’s desire. To keep trusting God to deliver.

He’d PROMISED it. All the blessings of paradise for his faithful people. And the catalyst, the trigger, the agent for all these blessings is God’s SERVANT. He’s going to bring it all to pass.

And in Ch 62, the Servant can’t keep silent. He delights greatly in his God. Because God’s got great plans for Jerusalem. But it’s not THE JERUSALEM OF OLD God’s got in mind. In v2, God’s got A NEW NAME for her. A new IDENTITY. A new relationship with her God.

The servant goes on in v4. No longer called “Deserted” or “Desolate”, but “Delight” and “Married”.

for the LORD will take DELIGHT in you, and your land will be MARRIED. 5 As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.

The long engagement’s nearly over. It’s almost time for the wedding. The wedding between God, and HIS heart’s desire – HIS PEOPLE. The old separation and distance and frustration replaced with intimacy and connection and satisfaction.

In fact, we’ll see God’s promising a whole new PEOPLE based on a whole new AGREEMENT. And God CAN’T WAIT.

The day’s coming when God will REJOICE over us. When the barriers, the separation will be gone. When, once more, he’ll enjoy his people the way it was in the beginning.

WE might be looking forward to paradise – our heart’s desire. But it’s just as important to realise that GOD’S looking forward to it as well. And that WE’RE HIS HEART’S DESIRE! God’s longing for that day even more than WE are.

But before we jump too quickly to OUR situation. Let’s think about how THE JEWS OF THAT TIME would have understood these promises of paradise.

They looked for some sort of earthly, political fulfilment. An EARTHLY kingdom of peace and prosperity and health and wealth. With Persia, or Babylon, or whoever in submission to Israel. But they were, ultimately, left UNSATISFIED. The promises are just TOO HUGE. TOO GLORIOUS. In fact, Jews are STILL waiting for God to deliver on these promises as they understand them.

A better way to understand Isaiah’s vision, and God’s promises, is to look BEYOND Israel in 500BC. Beyond a literal city and a literal land. To take the long-sighted view – the view of Isaiah. To look down through history, beyond the OLD Jerusalem. Through the lens of Jesus, to God’s NEW Jerusalem. With a new NAME. He saw God’s NEW people. Built on the foundation of the old, faithless Jerusalem.

And THAT’S the people, US, the people of the NEW COVENANT, those who belong TO JESUS. Who can look forward to the RICH FULLNESS of God’s promises. Who can long for our heart’s desire. And look forward to being GOD’S heart’s desire as well.

And if you jump over to Ch 66, you can see Isaiah’s vision of how those events would work themselves out in history.

God’s desire

To make a new people

Ch 66 is all about GOD’S DESIRE. And his FIRST desire is to make a new people.

It begins with God declaring that he’s not that impressed with the temple. It’s only a building ANYWAY, and can’t contain God – no matter HOW majestic it might be. But when it’s full of ritualistic, religious hypocrites (v3), it’s A STENCH IN GOD’S NOSTRILS. He sees every human heart and motive, so he HATES IT when people perform the RITUAL, but their hearts don’t MEAN IT. There at the end of v3.

They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations;

And so God’s going to BRING JUDGMENT. V4.

4 so I also will choose harsh treatment for them and will bring upon them what they dread. For when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.”

And the judgment’s centred around THE TEMPLE. V6.

6 Hear that uproar from the city, hear that NOISE FROM THE TEMPLE! It is the sound of the LORD repaying his enemies all they deserve.

And it would be a little over 500 years after Isaiah for THAT to be fulfilled. When Jesus comes and pronounces God’s judgment for their rejection of him. When he cleanses the temple of its religious idolatry. When he quotes Isaiah – that God’s house is to be a house of prayer for all nations. And so the temple, the centre of their religious hypocrisy is doomed as well.

And less than 40 yrs later, in AD70, the Romans would raze it to the ground. Never to be re-built.

Isaiah sees it all. But not just destruction. From the ashes, he sees new life rising. God’s NEW people. v7.

7 “Before she goes into labor, she gives birth; before the pains come upon her, she delivers a son. 8 Who has ever heard of such a thing? Who has ever seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children.

Jerusalem gives birth to children. A new nation.

And it happened that way IN HISTORY. God’s NEW people, built around his faithful Servant, Jesus were born out of his OLD PEOPLE. Beginning with 12 disciples. New FOUNDATIONS for a new PEOPLE to match the 12 tribes of the OLD people.

Even before the pains have come, the new son is delivered. The Christian church. That’s US!

And that new people. That faithful remnant. Have ONE MAIN CHARACTERISTIC that God DELIGHTS in. They’re humble and contrite. See it back there in v2?

“This is the one I esteem: he who is HUMBLE AND CONTRITE IN SPIRIT, and TREMBLES at my word.

God’s desire is people LIKE THAT. In Isaiah’s time, or today. Before Jesus, or AFTER. Is that YOU? Someone who recognises your own weakness and frailty and sin. Who trembles at God’s Word. Who acknowledges him as the One who offers and delivers forgiveness and restoration. The One who guides wisely. Who leads with compassion.

God ESTEEMS people like that. Like a bridegroom with his new bride, he DELIGHTS in people like that. REJOICES in them.

Make sure THAT’S YOU. So you can experience all the fullness of the REST of God’s promises.

To gather the nations

And it’s not just the humble and contrite FROM ISRAEL. God’s desire is TO GATHER THE NATIONS. It’s a familiar chorus in Isaiah. That the God who made the Universe deserves people to honour him, not just from Israel, but FROM THE WHOLE WORLD. Jump down to v18.

18 “And I, because of their actions and their imaginations, am about to come and GATHER ALL NATIONS AND TONGUES, AND THEY WILL COME AND SEE MY GLORY.

God’s going to do something amazing the nations will be ASTOUNDED at. He goes on to talk about a SIGN. And the news of that sign will be carried by his faithful remnant, to the world. V19.

19 “I will set A SIGN AMONG THEM, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations–to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.

The sign is probably the amazing birth talked about up from v7. A new people brought forth in a moment before the labour even begins. The whole amazing series of events focussed around Jesus’ earthly ministry. When the church was born, and Israel was judged.

And it’s that sign that God’s faithful people will take out to the nations. Rather than the nations coming to Jerusalem, which is the way it’s been described up until now. Now, it’s the message GOING OUT TO THE NATIONS. Which we see in the book of Acts, and beyond.

And God DELIGHTS in it. Have a look at how those people from every nation are described in v20.

20 And they will bring all YOUR BROTHERS, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as AN OFFERING to the LORD–on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. 21 And I will select some of them also to be PRIESTS AND LEVITES,” says the LORD.

Three significant descriptions. Firstly, they’re BROTHERS. It could be Jews who’ve been scattered who’ll be gathered. But the list of nations is just too diverse. These are GENTILES God’s gathering into the SAME FAMILY as his faithful Jews.

And that’s the story of the New Testament. Brothers from every part of the world, united in one family.

The SECOND thing Isaiah calls these Gentiles is AN OFFERING. Back at the start of the chapter God was REPULSED by the offerings of religious hypocrites. NOW, he LOVES the sacrifices of foreign converts that his faithful people bring. The LIVING sacrifices of lives willingly submitted to him.[1]

And not just an OFFERING. But people who PRESENT offerings. Gentiles becoming priests and levites (there in v21). Serving God, and studying his law, alongside their faithful Jewish brothers.[2]

It’s the sort of vision that James is working at building with his work for Global Recordings.

To fulfil his promises

God delights to gather the nations. Next, he delights TO FULFIL HIS PROMISES. Have a look there from v22.

22 “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD.

All the way back in Genesis 12 and 15 God made promises to the Abraham, the father of his people. And he promised him THREE THINGS. A name, more children than the stars in the sky, and a land for them to live in. And the story of the Bible is about how God ANSWERS those promises.

And here we see a picture of what, ultimately and eternally, that’s going to LOOK LIKE. A new heavens and earth that will endure forever. And then a NAME and DESCENDANTS that will endure forever. A people to LIVE there. And their focus will always be to worship and honour the God who CHOSE them, and gave them BIRTH.

To deliver justice

The final thing God desires to do is to deliver JUSTICE.

If you’re going to RESTORE things to the way they were before, or BETTER than before, you’ve got to remove everything that’s turned it rotten.

Like those renovation shows. They take an old wreck of a house. They cut out all the rotten wood, the white ants and the dry rot. They throw it in the skip, and replace it with new strong straight and reliable wood.

And there’s no place in God’s new heavens and earth. No place around his throne. For those who refuse to recognise him as their Creator. For those who’ve mistreated and abused his people. And while v24 seems like a depressing way to finish the book, for Christians who’ve been martyred, murdered, raped, imprisoned and beaten for their love of Jesus, there’s something of RELIEF. That justice is finally delivered.

Your heart’s desire (65:17-25)

That’s God’s desire. But if we jump back to Ch 65, we see a bit more detail about his new heavens and earth. A description for US to set our heart’s desire on. V17 of Ch 65.

17 “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.

A return to the way heaven and earth was in the beginning. A return to Eden. MORE Eden than Eden.

And whatever ELSE it will be like. It will be about a joyful closeness to God himself. The very thing we were created for. V18

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.

We will ENJOY God, and he’ll enjoy US. Even BETTER than in the Garden, when God walked and talked with Adam and Eve.

Or down in v24. God will be so close, he’ll ANSWER before we even ASK. Like an old married couple who know what the other person’s thinking. Who finish each other’s sentences.

The fountain of youth

And then in v20 we get as close as the OT comes to a description of eternal life.

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; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.

DEATH will be defeated. In fact, completely BANISHED.

And there’ll be COMPLETE SECURITY (v21 and 22). No more invaders stealing crops, taking over your homes.

Or down in v25.

And the FRUSTRATION OF WORK will be banished (v23). Adam’s punishment REVERSED. Work will be SATISFYING.

My chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. 23 They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,

I think that’s probably LITERAL. There’ll be WORK for us to do for eternity. Which is actually GOOD NEWS. Because it will be joyful, easy, and fulfilling. And it will be WITH GOD.

So? enjoy and hope

That’s your heart’s desire. But what do you DO with that? How does that shape the way you act and think TODAY?

I think there’s TWO things it means. It means we ENJOY and HOPE.

We enjoy God’s world TODAY. He MADE it good. ALL of it. And there’s STILL good in it. SO ENJOY his world, giving thanks to him for it. Enjoy nature, and work and kids and marriage. Enjoy exercise and gardening and reading and study. Enjoy food and wine and sport and travel. Enjoy them all. But recognise that they’ll BE EVEN BETTER when God redeems them all, and makes them ULTIMATE in his new heavens and earth.

And secondly, we HOPE. This world IS broken. There’s pain and death and separation and frustration and sickness and brokenness. But God mourns it TOO. And one day will fix it all up. And bring in a better reality. So fix your hope ON THAT DAY.

This week’s Australian Story on ABC told the story of Sally and Sam Nielson. They were 25, engaged, with their whole lives in front of them. Then Sam had a massive stroke, and doctors were sure he had severe brain damage. Sally stood by him, and against every medical opinion, Sam improved. He could walk and move, but not speak or eat.

After 18 months, friends and social workers told Sally to get on with her life and institutionalise Sam. Sally decided she’d stand by him. Eventually they convinced doctors to let them try a radical, experimental treatment using a sleeping tablet called Stilnox, linked to the death of Heath Ledger.

The results amazed doctors. For a brief one hour window every day, after they give Sam the drug, something happens in his brain, and his jaw muscles relax enough for Sam to be able to speak again, and to eat.

For one hour a day, until the drug wears off again, Sam and Sally talk like a normal couple. Sam eats chocolate biscuits, and tells Sally how much he loves her.

And then, slowly, he loses his ability to talk. Tears of frustration well up in his eyes.

And Sam and Sally have to wait until tomorrow. Hope that this one hour window is a taste of something better to come.

And God’s given us a taste of what’s to come. And he’s given us the promise that it’s coming. His new heaven and earth, the end of all pain and tears and frustration. And the beginning of REAL LIFE. So enjoy, and hope.

[1] The Apostle Paul picks up that language in Romans 15:15 as he talks about his ministry to Gentiles.

the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, SO THAT THE GENTILES MIGHT BECOME AN OFFERING ACCEPTABLE TO GOD, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

[2] Amazing promises God looked forward to fulfilling. And he did it in the church. 1 Peter 2:9 describes the church in categories that USED to be reserved for Israel.

9 But you are a chosen people, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

That’s people from every nation Peter’s describing as priests and a nation.

Comment (1)

  1. Dear Dave,
    Thank you very much for posting the link to this sermon on your Facebook page. It warmed my heart. I had been crying out “How long, O Lord”, and your sermon reminded me to pray for patience, and to know that God’s timing is perfect and that we will receive our heart’s desire in eternity (but that He wil mould our heart’s desire to be what He would have us desire.)

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