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Isaiah 65:17-25

So Vast Is the Scale

The joy of new life is anticipated by all of creation. Whether awaiting the blossoms of spring or the birth of a new child, hope fills hearts with the expectancy of new life. Instilled in us by the Creator, we cling to the future hope which is promised in God’s word.

The children of Israel had suffered in exile and lost much of their joy. Pregnancy no longer brought hope, but fear. Springtime simply signaled another year to suffer in separation from the promised land. Jerusalem had become a distant memory which was fading with every passing season. The need for hope had never been greater.

God speaks through the prophet Isaiah and provides a vision for a new future, one which will be much more expansive than anything that the people of God could ever imagine. It is an invitation into life as God’s holy people, living in the new Jerusalem. The old life will be shed as we are invited into new life, the contrast of which is beyond human comprehension.

The scale between the old and new is so vast that Isaiah has to put it into context. It is only in the last one-hundred years that infant mortality has dropped to levels in which the death of a child under five becomes an unusual occurrence. In the United States six children in 1000 will die before they reach the age of five. Until 1750 that number was around 500, and even by 1900 there were still over 200 deaths in 1000 children. [1] If you think about it, the number is absolutely staggering and every single family faced death. It was estimated in the early Roman period that each woman would need to give birth to ten children just to keep the population of a city stable.

Susanna Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley gave birth to nineteen children, nine of whom died in infancy. At the time of her death, only eight of her children were alive.[2] The pain of burying children must have broken the hearts of many a parent. This is suffering on a scale which we would find difficult to imagine in our day.

At the same time, we are beginning to take long-life for granted. I was recently in a meeting with actuaries who were reviewing pension and medical plans. They reported that all of the forecasting tables have to be changed because people are living much longer than the models had previously shown. My brother, who works for an insurance company, told me that his actuaries told him that the person who will live to 150 has probably already been born. This is a huge shift from the past. Until 1900 the average life expectancy barely reached over thirty. Now, this was in large part due to the high infant mortality rate. If a person made it to the age of fifteen, they may just make it to the ripe old age of fifty. With the decrease in infant mortality and improved medical care globally, in 2010 the world average of life expectancy was sixty-seven.[3] That is a huge number and a massive change in what was experienced in the past.

The prophet was trying to make a point about the vast scale of God’s promise. In a world where half of their children died before reaching the age of five, God promised that there would be no infants who would die. The infant mortality rate would become zero! For families who grieved the death of their children on a regular basis this was unthinkable.

In a world where the average lifespan was thirty, or one who was fortunate might make it to fifty there was an additional promise. One would only be a teenager at the age of 100. That was twice the lifespan of someone who made it to adulthood. It would be the equivalent of saying that someone would be a teenager at nearly 200 in the United States today. Seriously – imagining 200 year-old teenagers is beyond my thinking, but Isaiah was making a point.

The promise of the new Jerusalem was not just about the rebuilding of an ancient city but it was the foreshadowing of the kingdom of God. The new Jerusalem exists today, not in the Middle-East, but in the already of the kingdom of God. Therefore, the promises of Isaiah are for us already today. We have to ask ourselves, “What remains beyond our comprehension in scale today?”

We are invited into our cultural context in which we may see the vast scale of contrast when it comes to life in the new Jerusalem. The promise of new life is one of radical transformation, the scale of which may seem incomprehensible. The addict who has lived bound and controlled by their desires can be set free. Not only can the addict be set free, but can be renewed and restored in the image of God. The old is gone, the new has come, the scale of which is so vast that it’s beyond our comprehension.

The Apostle Paul challenges followers of Christ to live in sexual purity. The world would say, not only is this not possible, but it’s ridiculous to even try. The vastness of the scale is great in the kingdom. As we already live in the new Jerusalem we don’t have to succumb to the temptations of pornography and inappropriate sexual relations just because we live life in the flesh. In the new Jerusalem, all things are made new. This includes the healing of our physical bodies and the result is a contrast so vast with the mores of this world that they seem incomprehensible.

The new Jerusalem is not governed by the political systems of this world. Again the contrast becomes vast when we recognize that the systems of this world are far from the throne room of God. God is not pacing back and forth, wringing hands over decisions that humans will make here on earth. God is already in the new Jerusalem, safe and secure upon the throne. So vast is the scale, and the kingdom is so great in comparison to earthly powers that nothing can compare. God is already interacting with those who are participating in the kingdom. At the same time, we are not yet living completely in the kingdom. Therefore, we see the imprints of the kingdom now. We can be in the world, and yet, not of the world.

When the things of this world seem oddly out of step with the new Jerusalem, rejoice. Our awareness of the vast contrast means that we are moving into the already of the new kingdom in joyful anticipation of new life. [1] [2] [3]