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Isaiah 25: Everlasting Life

Good morning, church. Please go with me to the book of Isaiah, and this morning we’re going to be reading from chapter 25 as we continue our series through the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah is a book about the fall of the nation of Judah and the coming of the kingdom of God on earth. It’s a story of humanity’s sin, the distance between who we are and who we are meant to be, and in spite of all we’ve done wrong, God’s redemption. God is reversing sin, bringing what the Bible calls peace, shalom, the distance closed, sin undone, so that we, and all of creation will be restored back to our original purpose; everything will be made whole and right. We need to learn both to hope for the world as it will be and to live as citizens of the coming kingdom of God.

The past several weeks, I’ve been talking about the tools God is using to bring about his kingdom, in contrast with the tools the enemy uses to do his work in the world. The enemy uses death, violence, shame, accusation, and oppression to rule in the world and gain power, establish his kingdom. God isn’t going to establish his kingdom that way. God has his own weapons, his own tools he is using to establish his kingdom on the earth.

The Lord uses things like natural consequence, time and memory; hospitality, a word literally meaning stranger-love. God establishes his kingdom using truth-telling and judgement—not a partial judgement where some people get a pass while others suffer in their place, but a judgement that leaves thrones and throne rooms, comes through the city gates, and rescues us, cleanses us, from the death that surrounds us.

Last week, I preached on the vision of the Lord, seeing the world rightly, the way God sees it, and seeing ourselves the way God sees us—as people who aren’t perfect, in need of forgiveness and friendship in this world.

This week, we’re going to take a bit of a turn. Like I said, we’ve been talking for a while about how God is establishing his kingdom on the earth, but I want to shift today to begin talking about what God’s kingdom is like—we’ve been touching on it here and there, but it’s time for a deep dive into what the kingdom is like and what life in the kingdom is like.

Read with me, Isaiah, chapter 25, starting in v.1. [Isaiah 25:1-9]. This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Lord, please show us—allow us to see—your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.

Phil was joking in Bible study on Wednesday, because for the past several weeks, we’ve been starting the Bible study with a question and answer session, and some of the questions have been really tough. Like, what does the Bible say about tithing when you don’t have enough money to meet your basic needs? Or, why do Christians only follow some of the laws in the Old Testament? Or, if I have the Holy Spirit of God, too, and am able to read the Bible, how can anyone say my thoughts about God are wrong? So in the middle of this Q&A, Phil jokingly asked, “So Alex, what’s the meaning of life?”

And I laughed. As a pastor, being asked that question is funny in a variety of ways, because unlike literally everyone else, we’re expected to know the answer. Usually, people in our culture see meaning in life as mysterious, impossible to find, like traveling without a destination; or they see it as individual, you have to be true to yourself and find your meaning in the world out there somewhere. And in both of those ideas, we’re so close to the truth it’s painful.

Meaning in life isn’t impossible to find in this world, but it is impossible to grasp in this life, because our meaning is about the next life. And our meaning is individual—more individual than we’ve dared to imagine, but as individuals in a united community more unified and diverse than we’ve dared to imagine.

Ok, Phil, I’m going to try to answer it. Are you ready? Is everyone ready? This is a big moment for me: The meaning of life is to live everlastingly with God and his people in his kingdom. Ok, so I didn’t make that up, and I’m just paraphrasing the Westminster. Still, someone write this down, put it on a t-shirt.

And I know I’m joking right now, but let me get a little more serious, I’ll say my point this way: We were created to live everlastingly. We were created to live everlastingly, and in God’s kingdom there is everlasting life.

You have to realize the importance of what Isaiah is saying in this passage. This is an earthquake. This is a revolution. We should for real put v.7 on a t-shirt. Maybe Adam can make that happen, and we’ll sell it in the coffee shop.

This is what the kingdom of God is like: “the veil that’s spread over all nations, he will swallow up death forever.” In God’s kingdom, there is no death, only life. We were created, God’s purpose for us, part of our meaning in life, is to live with him everlastingly.

So I hope you can see, the reason I’m talking about our meaning and our purpose in a sermon on the nature of God’s kingdom, is that our purpose, our meaning, what we were created for, is life with God and his people in his kingdom. And knowing that, for me, is cause both of profound joy and profound grief—joy because I’ve found it. After a lifetime of searching for purpose, I found it, and mourning because I can’t grasp it right now, because God’s kingdom is not yet fully established on earth.

So in God’s kingdom there is no death. At first that may sound boring, or profoundly wrong in some way, like groundhog day, being forced to live the same day over and over again into infinity. My wife and I watched the TV series The Good Place recently, and for totally different reasons. She was in it for the comedy, and I’m over here taking notes on the theology of it. The show’s about a group of people who have died, and are navigating the afterlife together.

In the end, in the last season of the show, spoiler alert—but for real, you’ve had a year—they finally arrive at what, in the show, is called “the good place,” and the irony of it is—everyone’s always trying to get to the good place, but the good place is terrible. Everyone is bored out of their minds, because they’ve been there for an eternity, and there’s nowhere else to go. Do you want to do a thing? Probably not; you’ve done it a million times before. So, to fix the good place, they build a door, and when you walk through the door, you’re finally allowed to die.

Friends, we are so accustomed to death that we can’t help but try to bring it with us into eternity. But death is not what we’re meant for. That’s not our purpose. We’re meant to live.

I get it, though. If what you’re imagining of the new heaven and earth is more of the world as it is now, then you should want it to end. I long and I pray for the end of this age. Adam prays every week here, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. If you know me, you know I don’t sit still very well. If you were to put me on a cloud with a harp for more than a day, I’m gonna be trying to jump off the cloud onto the pavement.

And I’ve heard before, too, that heaven is like a worship service that never ends, and I’m sitting here thinking, yeah, I’ve been to that worship service before, where the brother is trying to preach until Jesus comes back, and I was leaning on the promise of God that this too shall pass.

Life in the kingdom of God, in the new earth, is not sitting on a cloud, and it’s not like the lives we are living now. We have to realize that we are so broken, even our experience and enjoyment of life is broken. Sin comes into our hearts, and into our relationships, bringing death where life once was.

When I first started dating my wife, neither of us thought it was going anywhere. In fact, Anne-Elise told me after our first date, she wasn’t intending to say yes to a second. And I had made some mistakes about dating too seriously, like anyone I dated I had to marry, so I made a resolution that I was going to date more casually, a few dates, have fun, enjoy the company, and then kind of amicably call it quits.

But I remember those moments when we realized we were going to live our lives together, if God is willing. There was one moment, we literally stayed up all night talking in the rec room at her dorm, and when morning broke, I hugged her goodbye, and we both just kind of lingered, I asked her, kind of jokingly, “How long can I hug you and it not be weird?” And I remember another moment—comically, it was our second kiss, because our first was terrible, and we didn’t kiss again for a few weeks, but we were in her car in the parking lot of the coffee shop where we had just had a great conversation, and we kissed for the second time, and I thought to myself, if I could only live that one moment in my life, that would be ok.

It’s moments like that which made me think, maybe I do want this relationship to last for my whole life. Because of the joy and life I found in her, I longed for a kind of everlastingness. I don’t want her ever to die. I want to keep living with her, because I love life with her. I don’t get tired of my time with her—that’s how I always want to spend my time.

Chesterton points out that we all begin life this way, ready to savor and exult in living each moment. It’s as we grow older, and the brokenness of the world begins to weigh on us, that we grow bored and anxious for what’s next. He writes, “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again;” and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that all daisies are alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old and our Father is younger than we.”

It’s sin that makes us long for an end, that robs from us the joy of everlastingness. God is faithful and just to bring about the end to brokenness, and bring us forward, to the infancy and innocence of the earth, where we can say with joy alongside him every morning, “do it again” to the sun.

The metaphors Isaiah is using here in this passage to describe the kingdom come, eternity, our purpose in life—he says it’s like a feast with the best food and drink. It’s like the day you get married, and you have your whole life together ahead of you. The kingdom of God is not living in the sense of life as it is now with brokenness all around us and in us—that’s what God is saving us from—the kingdom of God is living in the sense of being truly alive—those moments you don’t want ever to end won’t ever have to end. Living—really living—everlastingly with God and his people in his kingdom.

In the kingdom of God, we won’t be separated by time, space, or death from the people we love. V.7, death will be swallowed up. The people we’ve lost will be together with us again. And those people we love from whom space separates us—like my brother in North Carolina, whom I love deeply, and his family—we’ll be together with them, living lives we actually want to live, because we love the people with whom we are living.

The suffering which divides us from the people around us, the brokenness in us and them which makes us nervous to reach out, nervous to open up, because we’re afraid to get rejected—that unpleasantness of being around people who don’t really understand us, people we can’t relax around—that, too, will be healed. We are meant to live in a world of people who love, know, and understand us, who are so close that we view them as our family. We can be around them and not speak. We can just sit, eat, and enjoy being together.

In the passage, Isaiah repeats the phrase “all peoples” five times, to show that no earthly division will be allowed to stand—not race, not nationality or politics; not gender or wealth. Living together with God and his people. All truths will be told, all reconciliations made, every hateful word and aggression repented of and forgiven. Life together with God and his people in his kingdom.

And I wonder if it surprised anyone this morning to see this picture of our everlasting life surrounding a meal. We think of things like eating and drinking as what you do when you leave the assembly of God, but here Isaiah has us gathering to worship the Lord around a table. So my second point for today is this: we were created to eat. We were created to eat, and in God’s kingdom there is a feast.

Some of you are like, “Amen, brother,” let’s close this out and get some lunch. But I’m very serious. We were created to eat. You can see in v.6, the inauguration of the kingdom of God being established on earth is a feast. He even makes a point to say, this is good food, meat full of marrow, and good wine, well-aged. Everlasting life in the kingdom of God is not some other-worldly spiritual life on the clouds. It’s physical, embodied life here on earth, but without death or decay, and without suffering.

This image of the restoration of humanity involving a feast is actually throughout the Bible. Over and over again, when restoration is accomplished, it’s done with food and drink, because part of our purpose in life is to eat, be nourished, and taste, smell, touch, and with every sense know that God’s creation is good. When God begins the rescue and restoration of his people to the promised land in the Exodus, he begins with a family meal. When the people of God are restored to the land after the exile, it’s done with a feast at the table of the governor. When Peter is restored to ministry after his betrayal, it’s done over a meal of fish on the shore of the sea. When God breaks through the division between Jews and Gentiles in Acts, it’s through a shared meal coming down from heaven.

And we, in the Christian Church today, when we want to remind people of their restoration to God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we do it with a meal, bread and wine, restoration, a foretaste of the kingdom come in full.

Friends, we were created to live, and we were created to eat. In God’s kingdom, there is a feast together with all of his people. These may seem like small points, but I’m telling you they’re major. I’m going to take just a little time now here at the end, spelling out in practical terms the implications of these things in our daily lives, but I haven’t even imagined, so I can’t express, all that God intends for our lives together with him on earth.

Realize—this earth, this one we abuse, pave, and pollute—we are meant to live here. God is coming to redeem it alongside his redemption of us. Our life everlasting is not in some other place. It’s here, on a restored and recreated earth. So one aspect of taking part in the work of God establishing his kingdom on earth is working to care for the earth and turn back the effects of sin on the earth, itself. To live in and restore the world around us to the way God created it. One of the greatest living Christian thinkers today, Alvin Plantinga, who could offer arguments and proofs for days, was once asked how he tries to convince people who don’t believe of God’s existence, and he said, I take them hiking, sit with them on a mountaintop, and ask them to look at the beauty of the world God has made. Our purpose is intertwined with the purpose of our world—we are meant for life together here on this earth.

And realize—those moments spent at the table with your family and friends, visiting, enjoying food someone’s given you—those are moments you’ll carry into eternity. And the fact that we are eating in the kingdom of God means it’s not just our souls that will be redeemed and are everlasting. Our bodies are involved in redemption, and we will go as whole people, not just souls, into the kingdom of God.

Your face will go with you into eternity. Your hair, your hips, your legs and feet. The parts you don’t like, the parts you’ve abused and misused, and talked bad about. When you look in the mirror, and despise what you see, your God would beg to differ.

Our bodies aren’t evil or shameful like we so often think of them. And things like eating, drinking, running, playing, sex, and sight, using our bodies in the ways we were created to use them are not separate from, other than our spiritual lives. As the apostle Paul writes elsewhere, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”

It means we are whole people, and our soul and body cannot be separated. You cannot neglect the body and expect the soul to remain healthy. You cannot neglect your soul and expect your body to be healthy. If you are sick, physically or mentally, don’t just address the problem spiritually. Seek help with the physical as well—see a doctor, take the medication; and also pray, address the problem spiritually. You are not separate, body and soul, and neither should your actions be. Part of our mission as Christians is to minister to the needs of the body as well as the needs of the soul, helping and healing those who need care.

I’ve been looking for an occasion, and I think this is it, this beautiful passage in Isaiah. For the first time in over a year, as a whole body, we’re going this morning to participate in communion. Eat and drink knowing that this is an act you will carry with you into eternity, and so it is an act of astounding importance, this eating and drinking in worship of the Lord. This use of memory, remembrance, one of the tools by which God is establishing his kingdom.

In his kingdom, missions will be no more, because every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Tongues will cease, prophecies. There will be no more needs to meet, no shortage of food or water or places to live, no troubles to hear or sympathy to give. But there will be meals to share, and life to live.

In the day of the Lord, when he brings the world again into innocence and infancy, there will be life to live, so my invitation to you today is to begin living now as you will then. If you are a child of God, even in this life, you are free from sin and death in the world and able to live as a citizen of the kingdom.

Today, repent of your sins and find life in him. Today, rid yourselves of those things that divide you. Today, share a meal, and in it find a reminder of the life God is calling us to, the nourishment he gives, and the unity of the people of God.