The Perfect World!
Pastor Vince Gerhardy
Wouldn’t it be great to live in a perfect world? Wouldn’t it be just fine to live in a world where there were none of the imperfections, troubles and worries that we have at the moment?
In a perfect world people who are 50 would feel as good as they did when they were 16.
In a perfect world we could eat as much Christmas party food as we liked and not worry about putting on weight, in fact the more we ate the slimmer and fitter we would become.
In a perfect world we would get a nice fat tax refund cheque, even though we hadn’t paid any taxes.
In a perfect world there would be no need to fear bad health, war, natural disasters, death.
In a perfect world there would be no poverty, no pain, no hurt, and no broken relationships.
To a greater or lesser degree we all long for a world where we would be free of all the imperfections and troubles that this world gives us. In fact, the human race has been striving to create the perfect world generation after generation. And we have done very well with the science and technology that helps to make life easier, the fast foods and electric appliances that make food preparation a breeze compared to grandma who spent her whole day in the kitchen peeling, stirring, kneading baking, roasting and then washing up. We have gone a long way to improving our world through eliminating disease, through modern surgical methods, immunisation, and research.
Great things have been achieved, but this still isn’t a perfect world. We know very well that not only on the world scene but also in our everyday lives there is room for a great deal of improvement.
And so we come to the prophecy of Isaiah in the First Reading today. Here is the good news that there is a better world coming, in fact more than better – a perfect world. Isaiah begins with his prophetic announcement that the Messiah is coming.
“A shoot will come out of the stock of Jesse,
and a branch out of his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of (the Lord) will rest on him:
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge
and of the fear of (the Lord)” (Isaiah 11:1-2).
After talking about how this “shoot out of the stock of Jesse” will bring judgement and punishment, Isaiah proceeds to describe this wonderful picture.
“The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
The calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow and the bear will graze.
Their young ones will lie down together.
The lion will eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will play near a cobra’s hole,
and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
They will not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of Yahweh,
as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9).
The lamb is normally lunch for the lion. Likewise, the goat is a snack for the leopard. Animals that don’t normally get on – eat together and rest side by side in peace. And what is more “a little child will lead them”. Animals that we would hardly describe as suitable pets for a child – wolves, leopards, lions and snakes are play mates for a little child.
A SERMONWRITER SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “Many thanks, Dick! Not only was your exegesis very helpful, but also your sermon was powerful. It literally moved me to tears. Now I pray that I may simply ‘pass on’ your material, coupled with whatever the Lord gives me to add, that my sermon will also be a blessing to those who ‘have ears to hear.'”
This is perfect picture of a perfect world. There is no fear and no anxiety. The helpless and the innocent live in safety and have no dread of the big and the powerful. Isaiah in poetic language is describing in the best way that human words are able the perfect peace that the coming of the Messiah will bring. “The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat. The calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).
These words are Isaiah’s way of describing a peace that we only dream about. It’s the peace the angels proclaimed at the first Christmas when they said, “On earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). This is the perfect world where God rules and where all the imperfections of the present are past history.
We might be tempted to say, “Nice poetry, Isaiah. Beautiful thoughts but let’s get real here. It’s a nice thought but a far cry from the real world.” Before you dismiss this whole scene painted by Isaiah’s poetry of a kingdom of pacified wolves and lions and children caring for normally wild and dangerous animals as unrealistic and irrational remember the context these are spoken.
The world that Isaiah is describing is not one ruled by politicians, parliaments and tough generals. It is a world ruled by a little child – “a shoot will come out of the stock of Jesse”. (Remember Jesse was the father of King David, the forefather of Jesus). It is the kingdom of the Son of God – the long promised Messiah. It is a world ruled by a tiny child, born in very humble circumstances in a little out of the way country. In spite of what it seemed this child is the Prince of Peace. He came to bring harmony and reconciliation.
It is easy to debunk Isaiah’s promises of peace and a perfect world. But this shoot from the stump of Jesse brings something that far surpasses anything that we can create with our technology, finance and commerce; something far greater than the smartest and most diplomatic people in the United Nations.
In Christ all things have been made new. We have the peace that comes from the forgiveness of sin. We have been made new and perfect because of what Christ has done for us. We have the peace and the perfection that Christ gives but this will only become a visible reality when Christ comes again. When he comes then we shall be living in a perfect world that can best be symbolised by a little child playing amongst wild and dangerous animals.
Let’s look at this picture of Isaiah this way. We shudder at the thought of a little child playing near a nest of poisonous snakes, or worse that child picking up and playing with a snake. Our natural inclination would be snatch a child away from poisonous snakes for fear of sudden death. But the prophet is telling us that these snakes are harmless. Their power to kill has been removed. Isaiah is telling us that death has had its power to harm us removed. The Messiah brings peace. Those things that would harm us have been turned into harmless pussycats. In his kingdom there will be no need to fear the last enemy “death”. As Paul says, “Death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
We are all aware of what it is that causes the lack of peace in our world. We know too well what it is that causes imperfection. Sin. Often we think of sin as individual actions, and that is true. Sin is the straining of or breaking of a relationship.
We are well aware how our own selfishness and jealousy put a strain on our relationships with one another. Sin is essentially a breakdown in relationships. We are aware of the fact that we aren’t the husband or wife we ought to be, the father or the mother, the son or daughter, the employee, the neighbour, the friend, the Christian, the congregational member we ought to be. When we are less than what we ought to be, when we break and strain relationships – that is sin. And that also goes for our relationship with God.
Sin is a breakdown of our friendship with God. We aren’t what we ought to be. We are people who are loved and adopted by God at our baptism, yet we can’t seem to help ourselves. We live our lives as if God hadn’t done anything for us at all. There always seems to be a continuous need to restore broken relationships and plenty of room for improvement.
And this is where John the Baptist’s call for repentance comes in. He came calling to people who didn’t have peace, to imperfect people who lived in an imperfect world.
He comes calling to us again today in our Gospel reading. If I wanted to go to Gympie and I started down the freeway towards Brisbane I would have to repent of the direction I was going, turn around and go the opposite way or I wouldn’t get to where I was going. Talking about our sin, discussing it, feeling sorry over what we have done won’t change anything. Repentance means actively doing something to change the direction we are going.
Feeling sorry and falling on our knees in confession is only a very preliminary part of repentance. It’s the step of looking in the right direction, looking to God for help and forgiveness. But there is still more. Seek out what God is trying to tell us in the Scriptures and trying to do what God urges us to do through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. In other words, repentance means making changes to the way we live in our relationship with others and with God.
If you have been hard to get on with at home, repentance means not just feeling sorry for your behaviour, but also making a change.
If you have been slack in your church attendance, don’t just say sorry, do something about it.
True repentance means changing direction.
Unfortunately as long as we live in this imperfect world, this is going to have be a daily routine for us. Daily we sin, daily we need to repent. And daily we can experience that peace that comes from knowing Jesus and the forgiveness he gives. Daily we can return to the promises God made at our baptism that he will always love and grant us forgiveness, a small foretaste of what it will be like when the lion and the lamb will rest together and a child will play amongst them.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
© 2004, Pastor Vince Gerhardy. Used by permission.