“For behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth;
and the former things shall not be remembered
or come into mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever
in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing,
and her people a joy.”
Many of our churches are mired in traditionalism. Notice I used the term “traditionalism” and not “tradition.” Jeroslav Pelikan made the following distinction between the two: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”
Traditionalism is the conviction that “the way we do things here” should remain the same yesterday, today, and forevermore. In this way, our cherished traditions become Golden Calves that unintentionally replace our love for the true and living God.
As pastor and author Tim Keller puts it, idolatry is turning a good thing into a god.
But if we truly believe the God who is revealed in the Bible, we must be open to the new things that He is doing and will ultimately do. Indeed God does not change (Malachi 3:6) and there is no “shadow of turning” in Him (James 1:17), but the Scriptures reveal to us a God who promises to do a “new thing”! In Isaiah 43:19 the Lord says, “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?” Notice He is about to and is doing it at the same time. The question is do God’s people recognize the new?
Maybe we can’t see it because we are blinded by our traditionalism, or the other –isms that get in the way and obstruct our view. In Isaiah 65 we hear the Lord’s response to Isaiah’s intercessory prayer, wherein the prophet requests the Lord’s presence and redemption of Judah. What is humbling is that the Lord answers. Israel is praying to God about their physical exile but God is more concerned about their existential and spiritual exile. They are not only far from home. They are far from Him. They have walked in their own ways. They worshipped the Lord with their lips but their hearts were far from Him.
They were guilty of the gravest sin: idolatry. Idolatry is about control, about humanity acknowledging a higher power but one that can be made with human hands and manipulated. Idolatry leads to injustice and immorality because it wrongly orders our worship, diminishes our Creator, and turns us against him, ourselves, and others.
Sometimes idolatry is traditionalism.
It dethrones the true and living God from our hearts and replaces a dynamic relationship with dead religion.
But in spite of (and maybe because of?) Juadah’s (and, yes, our) unfaithfulness, God is doing and will do a new thing. Isaiah 65:17-25 details God’s radical transformation of the cosmos, a transformation that will provide shalom in the deepest and fullest sense of the term. This “peace on earth and goodwill toward all” will be the result of God’s restorative initiative. It is God who is doing the new thing, not us. This does not mean that we should not be engaged in transformative work. It is a reminder that any lasting transformation will not come about through humanism. God, not us, will ultimately get the glory for making all things new.
Three things are learned from these verses.
First, this renewal will be cosmic. It will be bigger and grander than any one person or place. Galaxies and solar systems, stars and planets will all be changed. Verse 17 should remind us of Genesis 1:1. As it was in the beginning, this new creation will begin with God and will include God’s creative activity in both the heavens and the earth. We earthlings won’t be the only benefactors of a new creation. In fact, this helps us better understand what the Apostle Paul is getting at in Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 5. The whole creation groans and waits for this new creation. And every time souls are added to the Church, becoming adopted children of God, we get closer to all new everything. It’s not all about us. All creation will be blessed from this divinely initiated new thing.
Second, this cosmic transformation, though universal, has particular and even personal implications. Verses 18 and 19 center on Jerusalem and verses 20-23 personalize the impact of the new creation. Israel will indeed be restored and there will no longer be “weeping and wailing.” The new creation of all things may be too massive for us to comprehend, but we all long for the day when tears will be wiped from our eyes and when we’ll be done with the troubles of this world. The trauma, tragedy, and terror of human existence will be no more. Our short lives, which are filled with trouble, will no longer experience such pain. In this new creation we will be able to know what life abundant is. We will no longer pursue life, liberty, and happiness. It will be ours completely. Our lives and labor will find ultimate rest and reason.
Third, the whole created order will be in harmony. The tensions within and between different communities—even different species— will give way to peace. Ultimately, the Messiah will overcome the serpent even as he has already overcome death and the grave. Death and weeping will be no more. Fear and war will be wiped away. There will not be murder, the survival of the fittest, or violence of any kind. The wolf and lion will not harm—nor be harmed— on the Lord’s holy mountain in that day.
All of this has implications for our worship. We must worship our creative God, not our traditions. We must worship Him with the past, present, and future in mind. Worship isn’t about our preferences but based on God’s promises to make all things new.
So may our worship and witness be ever open to the new and surprising things God is doing. Let’s make a new tradition of worship that readies us for the new creation. May our worship be a rehearsal for the new heavens and new earth.