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Citizens of New Jerusalem (Isaiah 65.17-25)

Last Sunday of the Church Year

“Citizens of New Jerusalem”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus          

Isaiah 65.17-25

20 November 2022



The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “But our citizenship is in heaven . . .” [Phil. 3.20] to remind them they have a different home. Philippi was a Roman colony. At strategic places in the ancient world the Romans established their colonies. They weren’t out in the wild like the American colonies but were set at the crossroads of trade routes and political pinch points. And so they controlled what happened in their world. Mostly, the colonists were former Roman soldiers who had served their 21 years and were rewarded with full citizenship. No matter how far flung the outpost had been they were distinctly Roman in dress, custom, and morals. These Roman colonists never forgot that they belonged to Rome. Their conduct must match their citizenship. That’s what Paul was saying to the Christians of all time: Never forget that you are a citizen of heaven! You must live like one who belongs there. Your conduct should prove that you belong in another place.

In our Old Testament reading Isaiah speaks of a new Jerusalem. With Jeremiah and other Old Testament prophets Isaiah was addressing the future restoration of the people of Judah who had been carried into exile in Babylon. In our Adult Bible class we’ve been studying Jeremiah and his Lamentations over the sins of the daughter of Zion, the sins which caused God to send them into exile. Their sins were so horrendous that God destroyed Jerusalem and the temple itself by the hand of the Babylonians. He took away all that they had treasured. He turned his back on them, but it was not forever because he promised to restore Jerusalem and bring his people back from exile. Jerusalem was to be a joy again.

Yet, the exiles were still 700 miles from old Jerusalem. They lived in a foreign land subject to a people who had taken them captive. They were not free. They were slaves responding to the every whim of their captors. In Psalm 137.3 we hear how their captors tormented them:

1By the waters of Babylon, 

       there we sat down and wept, 

       when we remembered Zion. 

On the willows there 

       we hung up our lyres. 

For there our captors 

       required of us songs, 

   and our tormentors, mirth, saying, 

       “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”  [Ps 137:1–3].

And the people of Judah replied,

How shall we sing the Lord’s song 

       in a foreign land? 

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, 

       let my right hand forget its skill! 

Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, 

       if I do not remember you, 

    if I do not set Jerusalem 

       above my highest joy! [Ps 137:4-6].

Oh, to be at home again in our own land! With the exiles we experience many of the same emotions! This earth is not our home. Heaven is because that is where our Lord is! That’s New Jerusalem! We enter the season of Advent next Sunday. We listen to Christ’s promises to come again to take us to be with him forever in the joy of heaven where nothing sad or evil can ever touch us again or intrude on our lives. We long for the perfection of our real home!

God has promised it. He will make new heavens and a new earth. We see its beginnings already. We have a foretaste of the feast to come, the Sacrament of Christ’s true body and blood, his Real Presence. We enjoy the forgiveness of sins through Holy Baptism. We sing his praises here in exile, however weak our praises may be compared to the singing at home in heaven.

This created order with all of its despair and decay will one day be gone. Destroyed by the hand of God. Nothing man can do will be able to stop it. It must end as sin must end because of Christ’s victory over sin on the cross. 

It is hard for us to see new heavens and a new earth. The Old Adam simply cannot grasp it. This kingdom of Christ does not have its place in our senses because faith doesn’t belong to what we perceive with those senses. It belongs only to faith. Therefore, faith sees what God has promised, yet at a distance. The former things—the pain and suffering of this life with all its disappointments and sorrows—will no longer be remembered [v. 17]. Heaven is nothing but pure joy in Christ. Oh, to be home in New Jerusalem!

We sat that it is “already but not yet.” The Apostle John says it this way in his first letter:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. [1 John 3.2-3]

So we wait for the new heavens and the new earth. We are like exiles in a foreign land. The customs and beliefs of this foreign land are not ours. Our nation is not a Christian nation. We dare not mix Church and state as some do. This nation is no theocracy, nor will it ever be. We’re more like ex-pats, those living in a foreign land whose allegiance is at home, like those Roman citizens living abroad. In New Jerusalem all of the brokenness of this world will be cast side; it will be no more. Isaiah describes the corruption which will not be in New Jerusalem. Time will no longer have its aging effect on us. Paradise will be restored. 

We wait with joy for our homecoming. We’re “Citizens of New Jerusalem!” Paul exhorts us to live and act like that! To speak in the words of our Gospel reading, we wait for the marriage feast of the Lamb and his Bride the Church. We are to be ready for that hour when the cry goes out, “The Bridegroom is here! All is ready! Come to the heavenly feast which has no end.” Inside there is nothing but celebration and joy which lasts forever. There is that celebratory drinking of wine with our Lord Jesus as he has promised when he drinks it with us in heaven as he has promised. 

Before our Lord went to the cross he told his disciples,

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [John 14.1-3]

There we will find joy and contentment for eternity. We will be home with our Lord in New Jerusalem. It is our true home.

In the parable Jesus exhorts us to be ready for his return. We wait, but how do we wait? We do not sit on our hands and do nothing. The waiting does not consist in not sleeping but in watchful living. Scholars speculate on what the oil in the parable means. If we follow Luther we would say that it consists in living out our Christian vocations. We don’t quit our jobs or lay about in idleness, but we do the tasks God has given us. Those are expressed clearly in the Table of Duties, those passages on Scripture which describe how a Christian lives in his stations in life. Husbands and wives, parents and children, employer and employees, citizen of the nation in which we live, pastors and parishioners, youth, widows, and finally, everyone. Keep busy with your Christian vocations! Live them out as Christ wants you to do! Then you will be ready for the great day when Christ returns and takes us with him to New Jerusalem, our true home.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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