Based on: Isaiah 65:17-25
Today is Saints Triumphant Sunday. What does that mean that we celebrate Saints Triumphant Sunday? Well, we remember those whom God kept faithful to the end of their lives. We praise God for bringing them into his eternal kingdom through the death of their bodies. We also look forward to the day when we will no longer suffer because of sin in this world. We will no longer be worn down by Satan’s temptations, and no longer frustrated by our own sinful bodies preventing us from serving their Lord the way we want to. Those who have died in the faith are now in perfect bliss with their Savior – in that place in heaven Christ promised he would make for each of us when he ascended into heaven.
When you think about heaven do you think of someplace wonderful? Do you think about a place without suffering, without illness, without cancer, without death – a place where all of our work is fulfilling and all of our rest refreshing? Where everyone you meet is helpful and kind? Where your garden always produces perfect vegetables and your trees, perfect fruit?
Heaven will be a wonderful place, but God’s kingdom, both before and after judgment day, is a place only for saints. So let’s review how we came to be saints in God’s kingdom. First, we don’t deserve to be in that wonderful place called heaven, only perfect people go there. All we deserve is hell. But Jesus Christ lived a perfect life in our place and he was punished for our imperfect lives. He suffered hell so we could enjoy heaven.
All who trust that Jesus has rescued them from hell are now saints in God’s kingdom. That means they are people who have been set apart and made holy by God. Those who have died in that faith we call saints triumphant – they have attained their goal. Those who are still on this earth (that would be us), perhaps we could call ourselves saints triumphing – heaven and all its blessings are truly ours, but we still must battle this evil world.
Let’s listen as God through Isaiah describes God’s kingdom after judgment day as the home of the saints triumphant and also as he describes the kingdom of God as it exists for us still on this earth.
In verse 17, the first verse of our lesson today, God tells us what will happen on judgment day. This current world we live in will exist no longer in its present form, but God will create new heavens and a new earth. He will create something perfect to take the place of this far from perfect world. Sin has so infiltrated everything in this world that we cannot understand what this will be like. Will it be like this world before Adam and Eve fell into sin? Or will be something completely different? I don’t know. Whatever it is, it will be so wonderful that the sin and corruption that brought sadness or tears in this world will not be remembered. It will not even cross our minds.
Now we can understand why God says in the next verse that this is something to rejoice over. Jerusalem is a picture of his church. On that day when God returns to create a new place for Jerusalem, a new place for his people to live, we can take delight in one another because he will make us perfect as well. Even more, God says he will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in us, his people. What does it take to make God happy? It must be truly wonderful. It must be perfect.
About this place God creates for his people he says, "The sound of weeping and crying will be heard in it no more." There will be nothing there that will cause sadness, nothing to cause people to cry. That is one of the reasons God said we wouldn’t remember what this former world was like – memories of sin and pain would cause sorrow.
That is what awaits us and all of the saints triumphant. Now as we hear verse 20 and following we begin to see something a little different. This section seems to apply to those of us who still remain on this earth. There is still death, giving birth to children, and the building of houses, but there is also God’s blessing on believers.
When the Old Testament prophets saw the future, God revealed to them clearly what would happen in the future, but the prophets didn’t always know when these things would happen. It’s like looking at a bunch of trees or mountains off in the distance. You can’t always tell which one comes first or how far apart they are, but you know they are there. So when the prophet Isaiah saw the future of God’s kingdom he saw the saints triumphing over the struggles of life in a sinful world, but not yet triumphant. He also saw eternal life after the Last Judgment. In the end it doesn’t matter which side of judgment the saints are on. It is all the same to God. The only thing that separates one side from the other is a little bit of time and perhaps the grave. And what is either to God?
For now we are saints in God’s kingdom this side of heaven. We only know this to be true through the eyes of faith. It takes faith to know that we have the blessings of saints in God’s kingdom because our senses will often tell us the opposite.
In verse 20 God says that those in God’s kingdom will live to an old age. How can this be? We know there are Christians who die before the age of 100, and who even die as infants. Yet death is still involved and so this doesn’t seem to refer to heaven. How is it that Christians always live to a mature age no matter when they die?
Remember how old age is often connected to wisdom, especially in Middle Eastern culture. When it comes to wisdom, every Christian is already wise beyond his years. He has more wisdom than even the unbeliever who lives a hundred years. Luther said it this way, "Laws and the monastic life beget nothing but pupils, and they remain boys for a hundred years. They remain children and fools. But in the kingdom of Christ, as soon as they have been dipped in Baptism, there must be wisdom and righteousness." It is certainly true the baptized infant has wisdom greater than the wisest unbeliever the world. The unbeliever who lives on a hundred years or more will never figure out by himself how to get into heaven, but the believer has true wisdom from God no matter when he dies. He is mature in his understanding of the truth.
Verses 21 and 22 talk about the work we do here on earth as members of God’s kingdom. God tells us that we will build houses and plant vineyards; we will do the work that he is given his church to do. Our work is to tell others about their Savior and to build each other up. God promises that we will enjoy the fruits of all of our labor – no matter how things appear in this life Satan cannot spoil the work we do for Lord. No unbeliever can enjoy the peace and joy that we have when we share God’s word with others. They cannot steal our fruit.
The most important phrase in verses 20 to 25 is right here in verse 23, "For they will be a people blessed by the Lord". This is why everything else in these six verses from 20 to 25 is true. It is because we are blessed by the Lord. Not only for us, but also for our children after us who remain in the faith.
There’s even more to this blessing by the Lord. He tells us in verse 24 that he will answer before we even call on him. Before we even realize we have a problem and call to him in prayer, he is already answering us. In fact he is solving our problem as we speak.
What about all of the lions and the wolves to try to attack the saints in God’s kingdom? In verse 25 we can be certain that God’s ability to change hearts extends even to our enemies. Those who would try to harm us, God can also make part of his kingdom. The apostle Paul is an excellent example – the one who tried to destroy the church worked very hard to grow the church. So those who are outside of the church, outside of God’s kingdom and trying to harm the church are sometimes brought into the church and feed on the Gospel message along side the sheep of God’s flock.
But there is one of whom this will never be true – Satan. In the Garden of Eden, God told that serpent that he would eat dust and that will not change. Here in Isaiah God reaffirms this promise – the serpent will continue to have dust as his food. In fact none of God’s enemies will be able to harm or destroy the saints that he has called to live on his Holy Mountain.
We are saints in God’s kingdom. This is true whether we are still on this earth or God has taken us to be with him in heaven. The truth of this is not something we can always see or feel, but God has promised that it is true. We are blessed by the Lord. Through Christ and because of Christ we are blessed.