The American author John Steinbeck was once told by his English professor that he would become a published author “when pigs fly.” As far as that professor was concerned, Steinbeck’s chances of writing a decent book were as good as the chances of a pig somehow sprouting wings and taking flight. But as it turned out Steinbeck did write popular books like Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. On all the books that he published he included the Latin phrase: ad astra per alia porci (to the stars on the wings of a pig).
Flying pigs would indeed be a strange sight. In fact if you saw such a phenomenon, you would believe anything possible. Although our text doesn’t talk about flying pigs, it does speak about a time when lions will no longer devour zebras and wildebeests but eat straw like an ox. When this strange phenomenon happens Christians shall see a new heaven and a new earth, we shall never cry again, and we shall live in everlasting harmony. It sounds too good to be true but it isn’t.
Our text was written by the prophet Isaiah who lived about 700 years before Christ. He witnessed to an Israelite nation who had, by in large, rejected God. The Lord said through Isaiah: “I will destine you for the sword and you will all bend down for the slaughter; for I called but you did not answer, I spoke but you did not listen. You did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me” (Isaiah 65:12). God was fed up with the Israelites and was going to punish them. Still he had kept a small group of Israelites faithful to him. To these believers God spoke words of comfort. Though they were surrounded by the wicked and their land was about to be run over by the Assyrians and then later the Babylonians, God had something wonderful planned for them. He said: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17a).
God was looking far into the future, to a time when his Son returns to judge the world. After the believers have been separated from the unbelievers, Jesus will make a new heaven and a new earth. No, after Judgment Day, heaven will not be in the heavens anymore. “Heaven,” the place where glorified believers will live forever with God, will be a new earth with a new sky. Contrary to the pictures you’ve seen, you probably won’t be sitting around on a cloud playing a harp in eternity; you’re more likely to be walking on grass like Adam and Eve did in the original paradise, the Garden of Eden.
But since God hasn’t given us many details of what this new world will be like it’s best not to speculate. What God does tell us is that in the new world, “The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17b).Veterans who now carry with them the horrific images of war will no longer wake in the middle of the night because bomb blasts invaded their dreams again. All the dumb comments we’ve made, all the shameful and foolish things we did in our youth, none of those failings will come to mind ever again. What’s even better is that God won’t remember them! That’s why we don’t have to be afraid of Judgment Day. On that day God is not going to recount all the sins we’ve committed while everyone else listens. That file will be sealed and destroyed. In fact right now God constantly tosses the record of our sins into a vat of Jesus’ blood, as it were, where they dissolve like grains of salt in water.
But what about loved ones that don’t end up on this new earth with us? Won’t we be sad when we think about them? Listen to what God said in our text: “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” (Isaiah 65:19). I don’t know how God is going to take away the sting of a loved one not being there on that new earth with us, but he will do that because there will be no sorrow on the new earth. Perhaps God will selectively erase our memory and it just won’t occur to us that a loved one is missing. Or, more probably, those memories won’t cause pain because our thoughts will be in total harmony with God’s thoughts. We will fully understand and rejoice at God’s righteous judgment as much as we’ll rejoice at his saving love. This may be too difficult for us to comprehend now but we have God’s word that nothing will make us sad in that wonderful place.
Perhaps the biggest reason there will be no crying in the new world is because there will be no more death. God expresses that truth in our text using a literary technique called litotes, or understatement. He proclaimed: “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” (Isaiah 65:20). There won’t be miscarriages, stillbirths, or fathers dying when their children are still toddlers. Sons and daughters won’t get killed in car accidents. There won’t be any of that because there won’t be any death. Isaiah assures us of this earlier in his book when he wrote: “On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 25:7, 8).
Of course you already knew that there would be no more death in paradise. But there’s even more to look forward to. God says of that place: “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 works of their hands. 23 They will not toil in vain” (Isaiah 65:22, 23a). If you think that the new earth is going to be a place where we sit around and do nothing, think again. We will be working in the new world just as Adam and Eve were to work and care for the Garden of Eden. Only work won’t be work. Every day there will be like the rare day here where everything clicks and you can’t wait to get back into the office or workroom the next day. What exactly will we be doing? I imagine that the talents we have now will be carried over into that new world. Great musicians may keep producing great works of art. Those of you who are good organizers of people and events may keep doing that and you will love your work. You’ll never be frustrated by those who don’t return your calls or think that your ideas are dumb. Likewise you won’t think the people you are working for are a burden. You’ll live to serve them because you’ll be perfect just as Jesus is perfect and lives to serve us.
Yes, we’ll live in everlasting harmony with one another in that new world. God illustrates well that point when he says, “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain” (Isaiah 65:25a). On the new earth, things will go back to the way they were meant to be. Animals (if in fact there will be animals on the new earth) will no longer tear each other apart like you see them do now on the Nature Channel. They’ll live in harmony and so will we. No longer will be blame each other for our sins because there will be no more sin!
So, are you excited for the new earth? I hope so. But perhaps you’re wondering how a text like this helps you face the dentist on Monday or get ready for that math test on Thursday? Studying this text is like circling your vacation days on your kitchen calendar. You do that, not because you’ll forget to go on vacation otherwise, but as a motivational tool to keep you plugging away until then. When the shortened daylight hours lengthen your dark mood, it helps to flip ahead on the calendar and be reminded that in a month you’ll be basking in the sunshine on Waikiki. Circling the dates of your trip to Hawaii may also motivate you to eat right and exercise so that you look good on the beach. In the same way reminding ourselves that we are headed to a better place will keep us from giving up on life or from getting wrapped up in this life so that we lose focus and direction. The Apostle Paul put it this way in our Epistle lesson: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:15-17).
Yes, the words of our text about the new earth do motivate and strengthen us for every good deed and word. For when we speak carelessly to one another and damage a friendship, we know that all is not lost. Jesus will create a world where that painful memory will disappear. So why bother holding on to grudges now? Get an early start on that new life and forget the sins that have been committed against you, just as God has already forgotten the sins that you commit daily. And we will continue to sin in this life, won’t we? You could say that pigs will fly before we ever stop sinning. But pigs won’t have to fly before we’re assured of forgiveness. That’s because a lamb has climbed a cross. Therefore we look forward to the day when lions will eat straw like an ox, and when believers will no longer cry but live forever in perfect harmony with one another. While we can’t circle this day on a calendar because we don’t know when Jesus will return, we can stay encircled in Jesus’ love by continuing to study passages like our sermon text. Keep doing this so that you too will one day set foot in that new world. Amen.