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On this Easter Sunday, Isaiah provides a wonderful look at how everything changes as God’s Kingdom comes.  Here’s the sermon I’m preaching on this Easter Sunday.  I pray that your Easter will be a glorious one.

Feeding Straw To Lions

Isaiah 65:17-25

17 “Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.

18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.

19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

20 “Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
he who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere youth;
he who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.

21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the works of their hands.

23 They will not toil in vain
or bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,
they and their descendants with them.

24 Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.

25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
but dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the LORD.

Why Are We Here Today?

Today is Easter Sunday, and we have gathered here as we do each year on this day.  But why are we here?  After all,  Easter has become a mish-mash of wonderful, yet often conflicting experiences.

First, we have the word “Easter” itself.  You will not find the word “Easter” in the Bible.  It’s actually not even a Christian or Jewish word.  Depending on which source you read, the word “Easter” comes either from the Egyptian goddess Ishtar, or from the Saxon goddess Eostre.  Eostre gets my vote because she had some strange connection to bunnies and eggs, which of course, we still have today.

But we’re not done yet.  Speaking of bunnies and eggs, we have brightly colored Easter baskets filled with eggs, either real or candy.  When I was a kid, I liked the candy eggs with the white centers, but I’m not sure you can get them any more. Peeps would be my second choice, but they’re not eggs.

And, of course, we have the Easter parade, or at least what’s left of it.  Some of you who are older will remember Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade, the movie and song, billed as the happiest movie ever made.  That was in 1948, and coming off World War II, perhaps the standards for what was happy were a little less strict.

But, the point of the Easter parade was to show off new Easter clothes.  Obviously, not everyone gets new Easter clothes.  When I served as pastor of Zion Hope Baptist Church in Tifton, Georgia, our part-time music director and his wife had eight children.  Because they couldn’t afford new shoes for everybody all at once, she told us that for Easter, the kids all got new shoelaces!

Oh, and then we’re also delighted to see the arrival of Spring!  The daffodils are blooming, the trees are leafing out, and it’s much warmer and sunnier than just a few weeks ago.  After having snow on the ground here in Chatham for most of the winter, we’re all very happy to see Spring arrive.  I guess the bunnies and eggs and flowers have some connection to the Spring theme.

Okay, let’s recap here:  With Easter we have a mixture that goes something like this:

  • Pagan goddesses either from Egypt or Saxony,
  • Nature decking itself out in new growth at Springtime,
  • Bunnies and eggs, all bright colors in bright baskets,
  • New clothes that reflect the new freshness of spring with bright prints and fabrics.

Have I left anything out?  Wait — there’s some religious significance to this day as well.  For our Jewish friends, this is the season of Passover.  You remember the story of Passover because it’s the Old Testament story found in Exodus, the story of God delivering the nation of Israel from the bondage of Egypt.  Passover is either 7 or 8 days, depending on which branch of Judaism you follow.  This year, Passover began at sundown on March 29 and will end at sundown on April 5.  Jesus’ last supper with the disciples was during Passover.  It is from the Passover meal and that last meal with Jesus, that we get our Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion ordinance, which we will observe today.

But the real significance of Easter Sunday for us is this:  It’s the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus!  We choose Sunday to do so because that’s when the followers of Jesus discovered the empty tomb.  The resurrection of Jesus was such a powerful event in the life of those early followers, that the first Christians began meeting together early on Sunday mornings, commemorating the first day of the week as the Lord’s Day.

So, that’s why we’re here.  It is the Sunday on which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, God’s Son, who just a couple of days ago died on the cross, was buried in a borrowed tomb.

Let’s Backup 600 Years

If we’re here today to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, then why did we read this passage from Isaiah 65?  Well, let’s take a look at what Isaiah, an outstanding Old Testament prophet, had to say.

In verse 17, Isaiah sounds like the Book of Revelation:

“Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.”

God is speaking and God is promising that He is about to create new heavens and a new earth.  This new heaven and new earth sounds a lot like the future, a lot like heaven.  But, wait, God is not through yet.  God goes on to say that:

  • Jerusalem will be a place of joy again;
  • Children will not die young, and old people will live a full lifetime;
  • The work of God’s people will not be in vain because they will get to live in the houses they build, and eat from the vineyards they plant;
  • God will bless them, and before they call on God, God will answer them;
  • And even nature will come under the rule of God’s peace because —

The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
but dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the LORD.”

This sounds like heaven, but obviously real things are happening.  The city of Jerusalem is a vibrant metropolis, and God’s people are joyous and happy. They work and enjoy the results of their efforts.  God blesses them, and hears them before they even call on Him.

And all of nature lives as it did in the Garden of Eden — at peace.

The wolf and lamb eat together (and not each other).
The lions eat straw like the ox,

And the serpent, reminding us of all we lost in Eden, will only have dust for food. In other words, the serpent still crawls along the ground, but his ability to hurt, kill and devour is gone.  All he has for food is dust — not birds, or mice, or other small animals — just dust.

But the phrase that I liked among all of those was “the lion will each straw like the ox.”

Have any of you ever been to the zoo when it was feeding time in the lions’ den?  When we were in Fort Worth while I was attending seminary, the Fort Worth zoo was one of our favorite places to take Laurie and Amy.  We were poor seminary students, and the zoo only cost 25-cents for admission.  We could get in and spend an entire afternoon for about a $1.

Well, feeding time in the lions’ den consisted of the zoo keepers throwing what looked like gigantic T-bone steaks into the arena where the lions paced back and forth.  These lions were carnivores, meat-eaters, and there was not a vegetarian lion in the bunch.

How Do You Feed Straw to Lions?

So, how do you feed straw to lions?  Well, you could use an extremely long fork.  That might protect you, but that doesn’t guarantee that the lions would like the straw.

The only way you can feed straw to lions is if everything we know has changed — that the world as we know it is not the same.  With the resurrection of Jesus, everything did change.

Let me explain:  God’s words in the Isaiah passage we read today did not describe the world that God’s people lived in.  They had been unfaithful to God, they had endured hardship, war, famine, and captivity.  Jerusalem lay in ruins, the people wept for the fall of their city, and the loss of life.

The very young and the very old were the first to be affected by the tragedy, as they still are today.  So, children died before their time, and old people succumbed to the harshness of the conditions in which they lived.

But God said, “I’m getting ready to change everything.”  God said, “The difference will be like night-and-day, like a new heaven and new earth.”

Now, we don’t have time to revisit the entire history of Israel, but take my word for it that in Jesus God fulfills His promises to Israel.  Luke tells us that in Acts 13:32 and following —

32″We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.”
Then verse 38–
38″Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. 40Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:
41″ ‘Look, you scoffers,
wonder and perish,
for I am going to do something in your days
that you would never believe,
even if someone told you.'”

And what God did was make it possible for lions to eat straw, wolves to share the dinner bowl with lambs, and for God’s people to experience God’s blessing.

Why The Resurrection Changed Everything

Okay, but some of you still look puzzled because you’re thinking, “The last time I checked lions still ate meat, and wolves still ate lambs.”  And you would be right, in a way.  But in another way, everything has changed, and is changing.

You see, Jesus life and ministry was about announcing and demonstrating the Kingdom of God.  Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus came saying,

“The time has come.  The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!”  — Mark 1:15

Jesus announced the coming Kingdom, and then he demonstrated it.  He healed people of leprosy, lameness, deafness, and blindness.  He fed people by blessing bread and breaking it and there was more than enough, with baskets full left over.  He cast out demons, he raised the dead, he demonstrated the power of God’s kingdom to transform all the problems of a world that operated as though it were opposed to God.

Jesus denounced those who took advantage of the poor, who didn’t care for children, who looked down on others.  He bridged centuries of prejudice and used the hated Samaritans as the example of someone who was a good neighbor.

He raised the status of women by listening to them, attending to their concerns, and thereby validating their place in God’s work.
Jesus reinterpreted the Law, the Torah, condensing it into two commands — Love God and love your neighbor.

He reminded people the Ten Commandments were to be taken both literally and spiritually.  Jesus said not only should you not kill, but you shouldn’t be angry with your brother because that’s where the seed of killing finds fertile ground.

He told us to love our enemies, do good to those who hurt us, turn the other cheek instead of retaliating, go the second mile, give more than we are asked, and to pick up our crosses and follow him.

Jesus changed everything.

But, all of his teaching, all of his miracles, all of his healing would have been forgotten if God had not raised him from the dead.  Jesus would have joined the ranks of the martyred idealists, the visionaries and mystics who dreamed of a different world, but whose dream died with them.

But God raised Jesus from the dead.  Why is that important?  Because when God raised Jesus from the dead —

The power of Rome was rendered powerless. The mighty Roman government, the worldwide empire, had sentenced Jesus to its worst form of capital punishment — the humiliation of crucifixion.  But the empty tomb negated Rome’s power.  Rome could take life, but only God could give life back.

The theology of exclusion was exposed. The Jews of the first century thought they were alone among God’s chosen people.  But within the Jews, their own religious leaders devised rules and laws to exclude, rather than grace and forgiveness to include.  And so in his last act of mercy, Jesus forgives the thief who hangs next to him, including an unclean, law-breaker in the Kingdom of God.

The dominion of Satan was devastated. Remember when we talked about the Apostles’ Creed?  Do you remember the line in the Creed that says, “He descended into hell.”  That phrase comes from 1 Peter 3:18-20 —

18For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”

The theologian Jurgen Moltmann says we have hope because Jesus went into hell.  Remember Jesus said that “the gates of hell would not prevail.”  Many believe that Jesus’ descent into the world of the dead broke Satan’s claim to those held there.  But if we need more proof still, Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5-11–

8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Every knee will bow. All the angels in heaven, all the people on earth, all the demons of hell — every knee will bow before Jesus.  And, to make certain that we get it, Paul reiterates the honor coming to Jesus by saying that “every tongue” — the tongues of angels, the tongues of people, the tongues of devils and demons — every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!

Jesus is Lord of glory, Lord of creation, Lord of this earth, Lord of this age, Lord of heaven, Lord of hell, Lord of time, Lord of eternity — Jesus is Lord!

In addition, Paul tells us that Jesus defeated sin, death, and the grave.  In raising Jesus from the dead, God vindicated the life and ministry of Jesus, and confirmed that the Kingdom of God had indeed dawned.

You say, “But why don’t we see it?”

Oh, but we do see it!  In 1977, Wheaton professor Arthur Holmes published his book, All Truth is God’s Truth, which became a phrase often-repeated in evangelical circles.  I would contend that if all truth is God’s truth, then all goodness is God’s goodness, and that goodness reflects the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

So, we see the Kingdom of God in the acts of kindness from one neighbor to another.  We see it in the giving of time and money to feed the hungry.  We see in lives changed from living in opposition to God and his Kingdom, to lives that are good, wholesome and bright.

We see the Kingdom of God all around us, changing us from people who hate, to people who love. Creating what Martin Luther King called “the beloved community” where all of God’s people, regardless of skin color or economic status are welcomed at God’s table.

We see the Kingdom of God in the efforts of those who work for peace, bridging centuries of prejudice and hatred with their presence and their passion.

We see the Kingdom of God in concern for the least, the last, and the lost in our society.  We see the Kingdom of God in care for others, in conflict transformation, and in the aspirations of those who desire to live productively and responsibly in this world.

That’s why Easter is important.  That’s why we gather here this morning.  That’s how you feed straw to lions.  Because the resurrection changes everything!