The search for meaning (June 11, 2023)

A lesson for June 11, 2023, about Isaiah 65:17-25 and the promise of God's new creation.

Outlook Standard Lesson for June 11, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Isaiah 65:17-25

Our journey through the prophets has focused on the “Righteous Reign of God.” In last week’s lesson, we recognized the beauty of urgently sharing the message of God’s reign. This week’s text focuses on God’s future regenerative reign and how it impacts our present search for meaning and purpose.

All is vanity

Most of us have heard the phrase “life is fleeting,” and we’ve felt its meaning. We enjoy a sunset, but the sun inevitably goes down. We experience an amazing vacation but work soon looms large again. Our kids leave for college, and we can wonder, “where did the time go?” Or we work hard for 30 or 40 years only to enjoy the labor of our hands in the twilight of life. We might even cry with the author of Ecclesiastes, “All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:4).

The human search for meaning is a universal one. We want our work to have lasting impact; we want a legacy. As a teacher, coach and youth minister, I frequently work with young people. I try to make the most of every opportunity, and yet, I am still wonder at times what impact my work is making.

“I will create…”

The prophet Isaiah engages in this question of meaning. He asks us, as people of faith, to consider that there might be a higher purpose. Perhaps there is meaning in life that only God can create and reveal. This passage narrates God’s direct voice repeatedly saying, “I will create” (v. 17-18). For people of faith, the search for meaning is more than just a fleeting hope, a chasing after the wind. It is built on the sure promise of God’s new creation — our future hope where long life is the norm (v. 19), where people fully enjoy the fruit of their labors (v. 21-22), where people do not labor in vain (v. 23).

New creation and the search for meaning

Let us consider two ways that God’s new creation can shape our search for meaning. First, knowing that there is a future eternal hope full of meaningful work, health, joy and the presence of God offers us encouragement for today’s journey. Even when work becomes monotonous or life’s trials are overwhelming, we can continue with hope because we know our pain will not last forever — that, as one of the 6th graders in my youth group so aptly put it, the way we understand faith and life now is but a shadow of the glorious reality to come.

Second, we also recognize that our work today has implications for the world to come. Jesus embodied the future heavenly reality being brought near as he healed the sick, restored meaning to people’s lives, freed the oppressed and called people to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). And for us who consider ourselves Jesus’ disciples, knowing Christ means being brought into a new reality, where everything from our work to leisure is done for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), thus filling our lives with divine purpose and joining God in the work of bringing about the new creation. As Christ’s ambassadors, we are entrusted with a great message to proclaim. Through Christ, God’s kingdom has come near! Through Christ, our lives are given meaning and purpose!

While the author of Ecclesiastes bemoaned a life devoid of meaning, our text from Isaiah challenges us to see a different reality, a reality of the coming new creation that we both await and catch glimpses of. We all struggle with the search for meaning this side of heaven; and yet, God’s promised new creation infuses us with hope to carry on, to see the fruit of our labors in heavenly treasure and in the newness of God’s ever-present work.

Questions for discussion

  1. How does Isaiah’s vision of new creation inform your search for meaning?

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