The graveyard of paradise

The graveyard of paradise

So much for a happy ending.

 To explain why I’m in a cemetery today, looking for flowers, let me share the final verse of Isaiah:

“And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”  (Is. 66:24)

There’s no doubt about it – this is not a feel-good final note. (Particularly for the rebellious!). And the people going out and looking here are those welcomed by the Lord into the new heavens and the new earth.  They are the redeemed from all over the world, drawn into the Lord’s presence.

The contrast is startling.  And, at first glance, more than a little upsetting.

And so, I’m here in the cemetery of a nearby town.  After recent rains, it feels very much like spring here in among the gravestones.  The only sounds are the birds and the groundskeeper’s riding mower just over the hill.  Daffodils adorn occasional plots, adding surprising – and welcome – color.

To understand Isaiah’s somber final note, it’s good to see what precedes:

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord.  (vs. 22-23)

This is a picture of unending contentment.  The redeemed joyfully worship the Lord as time is marked by the same festivals condemned in Isaiah 1:13 as “detestable” because of the rebelliousness of the nation.  It’s a lovely, full circle touch.

As I wander, I look for a cross on a headstone.  The only one I find is this wooden one, appearing as a hastily-added afterthought.  Still, it’s a welcome sign of hope.

And surely, it is the sign set among them in an earlier verse.  For it is only by the cross we are redeemed.  And given entrance to the new creation.  And able to worship the holy God.

But during that worship, will we see the corpses of the unredeemed in our peripheral vision?  I certainly hope not!  My guess is that this is figurative language.  In truth, we only need the cross to be able to visualize the punishment we should have experienced.

The cross is that reminder of the death that was due to our own rebellious hearts.  And though I think that eternity holds much more than just the cross, it would never be paradise without it.

And so, we come to the end of this lengthy look at Isaiah.  Eighty-seven posts!  The book was the perfect guide through this pandemic – so often speaking to the latest developments.

Right to the end, Isaiah’s two themes of man’s rebellion and God’s work of redemption have been as pertinent today as when they were written.

Sinful people like us can spend eternity with God?

There’s your happily ever after.

Lord Jesus, Suffering Servant, the Anointed One, lifted up on the cross to draw the redeemed from all nations, teach us to live in your grace every day.  Help us to keep what could have been in our periphery.

Reader:  Any final thoughts on our epic trek through Isaiah?  I’d love to hear them.

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.