Week of June 23: Trust in the knowledge that God prevails in the end
By Kim Reindl
Lesson for the week of June 23
Scripture: Isaiah 65:17-25
Opening questions: What is your vision of God’s future for us and for all of creation? (i.e., When you think about eternity, what does that look like?)
The title of Thomas Wolfe’s novel, published posthumously in 1940, is credited with the cultural adaptation of the phrase, “You can’t go home again.” Of course this concept is nothing new. The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who lived 500 years before Christ, is famous for saying that “No [person] ever steps in the same river twice.” The understanding in both cases is that no matter how much we desire to return to some nostalgic idealization of the past, the world is constantly changing and we are constantly changing; therefore, we can never return to what once was. For good or for bad, nothing will ever be exactly the same again.
This is the striking reality that the Israelites must face when they return from exile in Babylon. As indicated in Isaiah 34-35 and 40-55, those deported to Babylon after the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem held on to the hope of a glorious return home with an immediate restoration of God’s holy city. When the return from exile began after 537 BCE, what the Israelites found was far from what they had imagined. Faced with many hardships, the returnees were quick to despair. They found themselves threatened by pessimism and hopelessness.
It is in this environment that God’s prophet must offer the people hope. Today’s scripture passage in Isaiah 65 paints a beautiful picture of a promise not yet realized. The people are reminded that God is not only the Creator, as in things past, but also is creating, as in things future (Isaiah 65:17-18). Through the words of the prophet they are encouraged to hold on. In God’s promised future there will be no weeping or distress. Life will be long and fruitful, God’s presence will be known, and all will dwell in peace (Isaiah 65:19-25).
Sometimes we forget that God’s future is even brighter than God’s past. Our Christian hope lies in the conviction that what lies ahead is far greater than anything that has come before. It is for this reason that Christ is a foretaste of what is to come. We are told that Christ is the first fruits of the new creation (1 Corinthians 15:20) because what happened to Jesus at Easter is what will happen to us and the whole of creation. The “new heavens” and “new earth” promised by God in Isaiah 65 is a foreshadowing of the new Eden promised to us as well. Yet this Eden will be far greater than the first because in our returning we see God with new eyes and love God with a transformed heart.
Unfortunately, people are often confused by writings in scripture that speak of future things. Isaiah 65, like other books of the Bible such as Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah and Revelation, are meant to be messages of promise, not messages of literal prediction. Written to people who are suffering alienation and persecution, as well as struggling with remaining faithful to God while facing the allure of the surrounding culture, these texts offer hope. What we need to hear is God’s message to us through these writings. That message is that regardless of how bad things may look right now, you can trust in the fact that God will prevail in the end.
We as followers of Christ know this to be true because we have encountered the power of the risen Lord. God encourages us not to get stuck in desires of what was or what might have been. Remember the story of the risen Christ when he meets the disciples on the beach (John 21:1-19). This story begins with Simon Peter saying, “I am going fishing,” and the others responding, “We will go with you” (John 21:3). Already, in the face of adversity, the disciples have chosen to return to what is known and comfortable. Yet Jesus meets them at the shore and God’s future reality breaks into the present, transforming everything. Jesus makes clear to the disciples, and especially to Peter, that they cannot merely return to what once was. They are now followers of the risen Lord!
We can’t go home again because we are changed! Who we were yesterday is never who we will be tomorrow because we are children of the living God who is ever creating, making all things new. God’s future is a future with hope! “Be glad and rejoice forever in what [God is] creating” (Isaiah 65:18)!
Questions for further reflection:
• Imagine the circumstances that the Israelites faced when returning to Jerusalem after exile in Babylon. What might be the challenges physically, emotionally, and spiritually in such a situation? How might passages of scripture, like Isaiah 65:17-25, have offered them hope?
• What is the overarching message from this passage for us today?
Kim Reindl chairs the Discipleship Ministry Team for the North Georgia Conference and leads retreats, workshops, and seminars through Pomegranate Christian Education & Formation, www.pomegranatece.com. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.