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Friday, November 15, 2013

Pentecost 26: Right now, in this place, God is making a new Earth

Isaiah 65:17-25 and Luke 21:5-19


Text verse
I am making a new earth and new heavens.
Isaiah 65:17 GNB

Our Old Testament reading from Isaiah and our gospel reading from Luke really compliment each other today and I'm going to move between the two, referring to one, then to the other, because they both speak of the same reality, namely:

Right now, God is making a new Earth, a new Alberton, a new Alberton Methodist Church, and you and I are not only living in it, but are even invited to be part of God’s creative effort…. part of the building process. Here in South Africa a few years ago, we had the Fifa 2010 World Cup, part of which was a massive building programme, huge construction projects, but you and I didn't really play a role in the building process, other than through our taxes.

God is making a new Earth and you and I, and all people in fact, are called to be involved, not just with our money, but by hands on construction work. And there is no job reservation, there is no special skill required, in fact you are equipped and empowered on the job, and best of all, it is a project, which although huge in nature, definitely has no trace and no possibility of corruption or scandal. Your effort will make a difference and will not be wasted. Isn't that good news?

All people can do this work, in fact all people need to do this work and be involved in project re-creation. Every worker can be assured that the work they are doing is making a difference, and best of all, each of us can do our part of the job to perfection.

I am making a new earth, says God through the prophet Isaiah….. not…. one day I will make a new Earth and until then you are stuck with the earth you are living in….. no….. I am making a new earth.

This building project is nothing other than the kingdom of God coming on earth. Isaiah describes such a place, such a kingdom, such a new earth:
it is a kingdom where the people of full of joy;
a kingdom where there will be no weeping, no distress, or calling for help.
It is a kingdom where there will be no more babies dying in infancy…. our own country has a shockingly high infant mortality rate, doesn't it? Do we have to wait for eternity for this to change.....? Of course not.
It is a kingdom in which people will live out their lifespan.
The Psalmist considered three score years and ten as the blessed life, 70 years, but in this new Earth, 100 years old will be common and even considered young!
People will build homes and get to live in them, they will not be used by someone else, says God through the prophet Isaiah.
We live in a country where the majority of people who build homes, laying one brick upon another, then plastering, then painting etc….. the people who do this in South Africa generally never get to live in a house themselves. Homelessness in our nation is a disgrace. 

Against this background, doesn't the kingdom of God sound good? Many of you have never lived in your own home, and many live on the streets of our cities.
Doesn't this kingdom, this new earth that God is making right now sound good?

Isaiah goes on and says that the work you do in this new earth that God is building....... that He invites us to be a part of........ will be successful.

And best of all, this new place will be...................... peaceful.

On Monday we remembered fallen soldiers on Remembrance Day, millions who have died on battlefields. God says this new earth which I am building and which I invite you to help me build, is a place which is as peaceful as a world where wolves and lambs eat together, not each other, where lions eat with cattle, and snakes will no longer be dangerous! 

That's a peace that passes all understanding, isn't it? 

And yet, God says, it's what I am doing. That is what I am making, right now. Do you want to help me? The New Testament teaches that the time for that peace, which passes all understanding, is now! 

Jesus began his ministry, as you might remember, with words like this: ' The kingdom of God is at hand ' meaning, this kingdom, this new earth which Isaiah spoke about, is close.

Jesus would teach us to pray: 'your kingdom come'; in other words, this new earth, let it come, let it be,….NOW.

And then He showed in His life how, when we live like He lived, this kingdom comes, this new earth... happens. We see in the Gospels that where Jesus was, and especially when He was accepted and really made welcome into people's lives, there was joy, even in the midst of the brutal Roman occupation. Remember the story of Zaccheus a few weeks ago?

He showed that this new earth was coming and being established, because when people died before the proper age for their dying, well...... He stood at the deathbed or the grave, of children and adults, and said: 'Wake up! In this new earth you which I have begun making, you need not die before its actually time to die. '

Jesus showed and taught in many different ways that with His arrival on earth, the new earth, the kingdom of God, was and is, in our midst.

And He showed how by a small step of faith one can enter into this new earth, and be born again and empowered and equipped for life and work in this new earth.

Are you born again, and have you received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and His power, and are you living and working in and for the kingdom of God, so that where you are, the kingdom of God is coming, and where you are, God's will is being done?

We were ministering in Cape Town in 2010 and the old Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town had to be destroyed before the new Cape Town Stadium could be built. Sometimes things have to be destroyed, broken down, before new and better things can come about.

The Temple in Jerusalem was one such place. It was a hindrance to the fulfilment of Judaism, which is really what Christianity is. It was a hindrance to God's promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being fulfilled at the time of Jesus and after His ministry.

In verse five of Luke chapter 21, we see pride in the disciples as they look at the Temple, marvelling at its beauty, and the beauty of the gifts, the sacrifices, the fine bulls, and sheep and lambs being offered to God. The first fruits and the tithes of all harvests going up to the Temple.

King Solomon had built the first Temple in about 900 BC and it was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. 70 years later, Zerrubabbel rebuilt the Temple, and about 500 years later, when Jesus was born, Herod the Great built the new Temple, which was so huge and grand, it took him 46 years to build, and it was the Temple that was in Jerusalem during the life of Jesus. It was a source of great pride in Judaism.

And in this reading Jesus is predicting/prophesying/foretelling the destruction of this temple. Listen to verse six: all this you see, the time will come when not a single stone here will be left in its place, every one will be thrown down.”

And that prophecy was fulfilled in A.D. 70, just 37 years after Jesus spoke it. The Romans absolutely destroyed the Temple and all the things Jesus prophesied, wars, revolutions, earthquakes, famines, strange and terrifying things in the sky….. all these came about in A.D. 69 and 70. You can Google 'fall of Jerusalem and Jesus prophecies' and you will see Roman historians and Jewish historians recording all these things.

Of course for the disciples hearing these words, it sounded like the end of the world. They could not imagine a world without a Temple. Where would they bring their fine cattle, and lambs, and calves,… where would they bring their beautiful first fruits, their produce and harvests? Most of all, where would they bring their tithes?

And there we see why the Temple had to be destroyed,…. because what people had to learn is that God doesn't want your best bull, your finest lamb, one 10th of all your income………………..,

He wants….. YOU! (He knows that when he really gets you, he gets everything else.)

The Temple didn't encourage the giving of self to God, so it had to go.

It also had to go because while in the old kingdom, the old earth, God dwelt in the Temple, in the new kingdom, the new earth, God's dwelling place is with his people,….. remember,….. He is Emmanuelle,…. God with us.

So the old Temple had to go and it wasn't the end of the world, it was the beginning of a new world, the one which Isaiah had looked forward to, and which Jesus told us to pray for, and which comes when God's will is done on earth, in ....Alberton [insert your own hometown here], by you, by me, even as it is done in heaven.

When you and I walk with the Lord and do his will, there is joy….. and…. the new earth is built.
When you and I live as Jesus showed us to live,…… the new earth is built and God's kingdom comes.

Isaiah said there would be no weeping and calling for help…. well, in this new earth, there is certainly no calling for help, because as the born-again people of God, we offer help before people have to call for it and if there are tears, we wipe them away as we comfort them and……as we live this new way, the Way Jesus lived and calls us to live….. the new earth is built. As we offer our clean water to others to drink, and then perhaps even work for clean water where they live….. babies no longer die in infancy and people live out their lifespan, because waterborne diseases disappear and….. the new earth is built.

And as we follow Jesus’ example, and love instead of hate, and turn our enemies into our friends, it is like a world where wolves and lambs eat together…. it is peaceful and it remains peaceful because we let the Lamb of God give us His peace….. we no longer rely on the peace that the world offers and…….. the new earth is built. And so we could go on and on and on.

And it is my hope that we will, as we leave here, go on and on and on, reaching out to others, wiping away tears, even stopping babies from dying unnecessarily, loving our enemies, and so on and so on and so on. Because when we do these things, and of course many others, the new earth is built, brick by brick, by you and me as we work together with God.

I am making a new earth, says God.

These are ways (among many) that we can help him build it, so that His kingdom comes and His will is done, here in ....Alberton [insert your hometown], by us, even as it is done in Heaven.

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