Isaiah 52: 1-15
“The Grand Procession”
Isaiah’s prophecy is at times dramatic. It is difficult to read it as a set of propositions or merely as a legal document God has served to his sinful people – full of dry legalese and archaic language. The words leap off the page! As the prophecy unfolds, it is not unlike watching a play performed, but it is more like the actors in the play inviting us, even imploring us to join them on stage, to enter into the drama. In Isaiah 52, it is difficult for us to think, “God is rousting Judah out of her slumber and sin.” Rather, we hear God calling us, speaking to us, his voice ushering from these ancient scrolls, piercing through time and culture gaps, ringing in our ears as if he were speaking directly to us.
This chapter is structured around two rousing cries. God commands, “Awake, awake!” in (1) and then in (11) he commands, “Depart, depart!” God is rousing his people to join a parade led by Messiah, leaving the gates of Jerusalem in grand procession sprinkling the nations of the world with divine grace. This is the pilgrimage of a lifetime! This is the final and grandest of all of God’s missions to gather the nations to his Son. This is a description of the whole of these last days, from the passion of Christ to the Final Day of Judgment. “Awake, awake! Depart, depart!” Don’t miss the parade; fall in line behind the Son and go out into the world and into the new heavens and new earth.
Have you ever been roused from a deep sleep? Judah was fast asleep in a spiritual stupor, thinking that in her syncretism and idolatry, the Old Covenant mission of attracting pagans to the holy city Jerusalem, into the Gentile court, was yet God’s plan of salvation. God rouses the few faithful left in this earthly Jerusalem, no longer a light to the nations, but a seedy center of complacency and idolatry. In (1) He says to his faithful few, “put on your beautiful garments,” “get dressed!” and then in (2) “Shake yourself from the dust and arise,” in other words, “Stop mourning in sackcloth and ashes; your prayers have been answered and it is time for the second and greater mission of God to fulfill his promises to your father Abraham: “In you all nations will be blessed.”
In (1) God alludes to the end of a chapter of his mission, his gathering of the uncircumcised and unclean to the temple in earthly Jerusalem. Non-Jews were allowed to visit the outer court of the temple, to see the glory of God and to hear his law explicated by the elders, and to see the members of the temple, having offered their sacrifices, enter into the courts of prayer as a holy people of God. But the faithful few in Isaiah’s day mourned the loss of this mission. Not only were these pagans visiting the temple, but the priests of God were erecting the idols of these pagans affirming that all religions are basically the same as pathways to the divine. What a bondage it must have been for these faithful few!
God awakens them from their spiritual stupor and from their mourning the loss of God’s mission. He reminds them of his redemptive acts. In mentioning Egypt and Assyria in (4) God describes the entire history of the oppression of his people from the days of Moses to the days of Isaiah. God kindly speaks from the perspective of his people, who must wonder, “Why did God liberate us from Egypt to build a new society complete with a temple, only to be carted off into captivity by the Assyrians?” This indeed is the plaguing question for a persecuted Israel and Judah. In (5), “their rulers wail,” and God adds, “and continually all the day my name is despised.” What kind of a God would redeem his people only to discard them for nothing, handing them over to the wicked Assyrian empire? God is preparing Judah to go into Babylonian captivity. What kind of a redeeming God would do such a thing?
In (6) God speaks of a day in the future when his people will understand and experience his complete redemption, able then to make sense of their oppression. Until then, God rouses his people, “Awake, awake! Don’t miss the good news coming to you! Someone is running towards you with a most surprising message! In (7-10) God proclaims the reason for awakening his children. Good news is coming to them – a message that will explain to them everything they need to know about God’s redemptive acts on their behalf.
In the ancient world messengers on foot would run between the battlefield and the fortified city delivering good or bad news. Judah had recently received bad news from messengers telling of the northern tribes of Israel dragged away to Assyria. The messengers had told of the Assyrians marching towards Jerusalem. Miraculously, God had spared Judah from the Assyrians. Nevertheless, such a small and fragile nation had no hope of good news in a world of evil empires. But God awakens his people to receive good news of peace, happiness and salvation. Better yet, the message from the battlefield is “Your God reigns!” The watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem sing for joy! They call to the blurry-eyed residents to scramble to the top of the wall to see for themselves the coming of the Lord. God has not been defeated. He has comforted his people and redeemed his holy city. Not only shall the residents of Jerusalem see the strength and salvation of God but the entire world shall see him in his victorious glory.
God has proclaimed his gospel to his people in every age. Judah in Isaiah’s day was plagued by the question, “If God is our Redeemer, if he is good and omnipotent, why does he allow oppression, suffering, and death?” Today we are plagued by the same questions. Indeed many have abandoned God because they believe he has not adequately answered them. But God has proclaimed his answer to such questions – he has sent his messengers to proclaim the gospel to us – He has won the battle and so peace, happiness, and salvation are on the way! Your God reigns! Do you remember the day when God roused you from your spiritual stupor and mourning? Do you remember the first time you heard the gospel and joined the joyful songs of God’s people? Perhaps today, the voice of God crying, “Awake, awake!” will leap off the pages of Isaiah’s prophecy calling you to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, our peace, our happiness, and our salvation.
Much to the surprise of Judah’s faithful few, God’s second command in (11) is “Depart, depart!” Why does not God come to purify Jerusalem? Why is he calling us to leave the holy city? Why doesn’t he tell the idolaters to leave? God is marshalling a grand procession departing the earthly Jerusalem toward the heavenly city. The faithful few are commanded to be a new priesthood of God. “Touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the Lord.” The corrupt priests of Judah remain in the defiled temple, while the faithful remnant departs in grand procession, taking the holy vessels of the Lord into the world.
This departure is not a hasty escape. The faithful few will not be victims of war hastily scurrying away in the night. They will joyfully and boldly fall into line. “The Lord will go before you and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” They are the grand procession that the apostle Paul speaks of to the church at Corinth – the victory parade on its way to the heavenly city! This is the bridegroom, Jesus told us about, coming to collect his bride. This is the kingdom of priests in the apostle Peter’s writing. This is all of Abraham’s children by faith following him in his search for the heavenly city. This is the reason for God crying, “Awake, awake! Depart, depart!” God proclaims his gospel then he leads us on the straight and narrow path taking the gospel to the nations on our way to the heavenly city. Thank God he has awakened us from the dark night of the soul, from our complacency, from our uneasy and nightmarish slumber!
In (13-15) God tells us a little more about this grand procession. He has already told us in (12) that “the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” Now in (13) he describes for us the “Lord who goes before us.” He is the Suffering Servant, who has appeared in Isaiah’s prophecy. God describes his suffering Messiah as one who has shared in his people’s suffering. Remember, God is encouraging his faithful and mourning people who wonder why God would redeem them only to return them to suffering and oppression. He introduces us to his servant, who shall act wisely; “he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” But this shall be his blessing only after he has suffered greatly. In (14) He is just like you – “As many were astonished at you” – in other words, the whole world is wondering, “If God is the one true God, why has he allowed his people to suffer?” The greater question of those who have read the Holy Scriptures is this: “If God is the one true God, why has he allowed his one and only perfect Son, to suffer?”
(14) is most certainly as description of Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant. This is a picture of Jesus dying on the cross, having suffered the scorn and torture at the hands of his own brothers and under the oppressive and arrogant rule of a wicked Roman empire. Indeed the Son of God was incarnate, truly human in all respects except for sin. Were he not human, then he could not be “marred beyond his human semblance, his form beyond that of the children of mankind.” The gospel surprise in Isaiah’s prophecy is that of Messiah suffering first then entering his glory, exalted to victorious lordship over heaven and earth.
The Lord who leads this grand procession for the earthly city to the heavenly one is none other than Jesus Christ, the one who has suffered. As the procession departs Jerusalem, Jesus “sprinkles many nations.” With a parade of holy priests bearing holy vessels used for atoning sacrifices in the temple, following in his train, Jesus brings atonement to the world. As Jesus commanded his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Indeed he is with us today leading us in grand procession into heavenly glory.
“The God of Israel will be your rear guard.” How the Father’s love must be kindled as he observes his Son leading such a grand procession of saints into his glorious heaven. He shall not allow any enemy to harm us along the way. He is our rear guard assuring in all his omnipotence and never ending love that we shall make it to his glorious heaven to dwell in his presence.
As we proceed, the great rulers of this world fall silent as they see God and the Son parading with their people. Now the cross makes sense to them who scratched their heads and perhaps uttered scorn. Now the resurrection is no longer a claim to be disproved – it is our resurrection and entrance into glory. Now the Father’s conferring of the title “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” upon his Suffering Servant, will never again be contested. This procession has made its way to the ends of the earth, even to Oregon. It’s time for us to awake and to depart in the grand procession of God.
“How Can I, Unless Someone Guides Me”
Isaiah 53 may be one of the better-known texts Christians recognize to foretell the sufferings of Jesus. We read it and quite easily connect each line to the saving work of Jesus, taking our sufferings upon himself as he was nailed to the cross. We may be puzzled when any of our friends scratch their heads, wondering how it is we would make such a connection between Isaiah’s prophecy and Jesus of Nazareth.
In his book, “The Acts of the Apostles,” Luke includes the story of the apostle Philip meeting the Ethiopian eunuch in the desert. Philip hears the eunuch reading aloud a portion of Isaiah 53 and so he asks him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch replies, “How can I unless someone guides me?” More and more we are encountering in our community people who are as confused as this eunuch.
The apostle Philip was able to make a connection between Isaiah 53 and Jesus because he had spent time with Jesus, the first one to make the connec-tion between Isaiah 53 and himself. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples in Chapter 22, “For I tell you that the Scriptures must be fulfilled in me. ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” The context for Jesus’ words seems to indicate that his disciples did not fully understand what he was saying. It is possible that the apostle Philip was unable to make the connection between the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 and Jesus until after the crucifixion.
Philip heard the eunuch reading from Isaiah 53:7-8 and some of us have noticed the slight differences between what Luke quotes in Acts 8 and the original text. The reason for this difference is that the eunuch was reading a Greek translation of the Hebrew text known as the Septuagint, written by 70 Jewish scholars. Hebrew scrolls would have been largely kept in the synagogues. Common people did not have copies of Hebrew scrolls in their possession. But in the first century more and more Greek scrolls of the text were available as Greek was the trade language of the day. But the slight differences in translation were not the cause of the Ethiopian’s confusion. He asks Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” That is a good question!
The modern tradition of Jewish interpretation offers two answers to this question: 1) The prophet Isaiah was referring to his own sufferings; 2) The prophet Isaiah was referring to the collective sufferings of the Jewish people. Those of us who have read the teachings of Jesus and his apostles have made the connection between Isaiah 53 and Jesus. The same Holy Spirit who guided Philip has been poured out upon all of us who follow Jesus today. We have been given the same mission as Philip, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations, to anyone who would say, “How can I unless someone guides me?”
Our text is known as the Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant. It begins in Isaiah 52: 13 with this statement that God’s Servant shall be exalted – a Messianic promise – he shall be high and lifted up – not merely higher than fellow human beings, but exalted, a word hinting to supremacy. The next lines are shocking. This exalted Servant of God must first share in the sufferings of God’s people. Through his suffering he will cleanse the nations. As God’s prophet, Isaiah realizes that these words will be difficult for Judah to accept, let alone understand. In (53:1) he says, “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” God’s arm is an image of his controlling authority and yet God reveals to us this shocking promise that his chosen Servant, his Messiah, will suffer greatly. Truly, anyone who believes such a message must be moved by the Holy Spirit to accept it let alone understand it. A strong, victorious Messiah makes sense for us. But God has revealed to us that his Messiah shall suffer first then enter his glory.
The first image of the Suffering Servant offered to us in this song is that of a seedling rooted in parched soil. Isaiah writes, “He grew up…” and this describes for us the fragile nature of Messiah, an infant in a dark and dangerous world. He was born a common person –no majesty of royal or wealthy birth. He is not particularly beautiful in physical appearance. These words defy some of the apocryphal presentations of a child who has miraculous powers, charismatic personality and beautiful hair, skin and features. Isaiah says that he possessed no qualities that would make us desire him. In Luke’s birth narratives we read, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and Man.” As he matured into a young man, the scribes in the temple marveled at his grasp of the Holy Scriptures and certainly his perfect obedience from his first breath in this world was remarkably observable. As Jesus’ favor with God increased through his perfect obedience sustained, his favor with Man, though it grew for a time, was short-lived.
The prophet Isaiah tells us that he was “despised and rejected by men, acquainted with grief and shame…” In the Babylonian Talmud, early Jewish interpretations of these verses present a suffering Messiah, or to be precise, “A Leper Scholar.” But as Talmudic interpretations of the rabbis continue into modern Jewish scholarship, the Messiah is stripped of any suffering, presented as a strong, victorious King. The first Jewish answer to the question, “Of whom do these words speak?” is “Isaiah speaks of himself.” But we must go to Muslim tradition to read that Isaiah was martyred, sawed in half by the Israelites. The Bible records Isaiah’s long tenure as prophet through the reign of four kings, approximately 64 years. If the Jewish traditions of the Suffering Servant being an image of the persecutions of Israel throughout history are to be considered, then we must find textual language in the feminine gender – the suffering bride. A masculine image of the Servant, as the ancient Jewish literature recognizes, would point to Messiah, the bridegroom of Israel. Our text includes references to this Suffering Servant in his relationship to Israel and Judah, and so the Suffering Servant cannot be the collective whole. For example: Isaiah writes in (4) “Surely he has born our griefs.” The collective “our” would refer to the whole of God’s people while the singular, masculine “he” would refer to the Suffering Servant.
The second section of this song adds something more to the suffering of God’s Servant. In (4-6) we learn that this Servant has suffered in our place! “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” God has punished him in our place! “He was wounded and crushed for our sins.” Isaiah describes what the church has called, “The Blessed Exchange.” This Servant bears our punishment and we receive peace and healing. This Servant receives suffering he does not deserve and we receive blessing we do not deserve. The gospel is not confined to the New Testament. Isaiah preaches the gospel with amazing clarity: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – everyone – to his own way.” Such straying from God; such selfish and rebellious charting of our own course in direct opposition to God’s straight and narrow path deserves the wrath of God. But “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” As the apostle Paul wrote, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Can the prophet Isaiah complete such an exchange for us? Can the severe persecutions of the Jewish people through out centuries atone for the sins of humanity? These words describe Messiah. How will Messiah win victory for God’s people? Jesus said of himself, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.”
The next part of the song tells even more about how the Servant suffered in our place. In (7) we learn of Messiah’s silence in his passion. We remember the Gospel writers including Jesus’ refusal to answer his false accusers. In (8) we learn of Messiah condemned by his own generation. In (9) we learn of Messiah’s burial and we cannot help but remember the Gospel narrative of Joseph of Arimathea placing the dead body of Jesus in his own tomb. Through all of his sufferings this Messiah Jesus maintains his perfect obedience, committing no violence or deceit. Theologians have distinguished between the active and passive obedience of Christ. In his active obedience, Jesus perfectly executed his heavenly Father’s will. In his passive obedience, Jesus suffers death for our sin. Notice in (7-9) the passive tenses: “He was oppressed; he was afflicted…he was taken away…he was cut off.”
Skeptics prefer to think of the apostles creating a new religion around Jesus, the fulfillment of the Holy Scriptures – a sort of hi-jacking of Judaism to build the new Christianity. This argument is made mostly with the resurrection in mind. The disciples invented the resurrection to offer to the world a strong and victorious Jesus, the head of the church. Then they had to fix the problem of the cross and so they dug up texts like Isaiah 53, writing their Gospels and Epistles to make it look as if Jesus fulfilled in his passion these curious details. If so, these common disciples were masters of conspiracy. If the early rabbinic interpretations included in the Babylonian Talmud are correct – that Messiah would suffer, and if the Gospels are correct in including the utter confusion of the disciples concerning Jesus’ teaching of his death and resurrection, then the burden of proof lies upon these skeptics. The alternative, of course, is to see how perfectly the life and death of Jesus matches these prophecies of Isaiah. If Jesus were a mere man full of a driving desire to achieve Messianic prominence, would he not have played to the misconceptions of his day that Messiah would be a strong victor? What kind of a remarkable man would abandon his widespread popularity among the masses, setting his face toward death in Jerusalem? What kind of a man could orchestrate the details of his life to turn the Roman government and the powers of Judaism, both at each other’s throats, into a united instrument of his Messianic suffering?
The final part of this song tells us that Messiah did not orchestrate his own suffering and exaltation but that this is the will of God. For Messiah to suffer first and then enter into his glory is the plan of God. In (10) we learn that it is God who crushed his Servant. It is God who put him to grief. God had good purpose in doing so. It is in and through his suffering that God’s promise of reconciliation and restoration of his people will come to pass. In (10) we learn that Jesus is the guilt offering for our sin. Not only did Jesus suffer in his body, but notice, in his soul, he voluntarily offered himself as a guilt offering. Jesus sacrificed himself to the very core of his being. He did so as the only One who perfectly lived according to his Father’s will. In (11) we learn that Jesus knew the results of his Father’s will. He knew the divine plan of the blessed exchange. The righteous One must give his life so that “many would be accounted righteous.” God declares the Servant’s reward in (12): He shall share with the many God’s portion of eternal blessing.
Three times Isaiah mentions the Servant’s soul: (10) “his soul makes an offering for guilt; (11) “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied”; (12) “he poured out his soul to death.” The good news for us today is this: Jesus’ soul was wholly dedicated to our salvation from sin and death. He not only doggedly obeyed the Father’s will, crying out in Gethsemane for some other way other than his cruel death to accomplish it. But even more so, he was completely aware of the Father’s will and plan for our salvation and he willingly and perfectly adopted his Father’s will for our salvation, even though it caused him great anguish. The author of Hebrews captures the intent of Jesus’ soul in our salvation with these words: “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross scorning its shame.” These words are indelibly linked to Isaiah’s words in (11), “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied.”
These connections defy human control. They defy human conjecture of greedy power plays and invented human religion. How can any of us understand these amazing and heartening words unless someone guides us? Did the Ethiopian eunuch arrive at his desert baptism, embracing Jesus as Messiah because some stranger mysteriously appeared at his chariot in the middle of nowhere? Or did the Holy Spirit send to him a human instrument to explain to him what he could only embrace as the Holy Spirit opened his spiritual eyes? Luke writes, “And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.” Philip disappeared but the Holy Spirit remained with the eunuch and he rejoiced. This essentially is the story of every follower of Jesus, the Messiah. This is our story. Today we rejoice in the Suffering Servant because the Holy Spirit remains with us.
God Describes His Love for Us
God has sent his prophet Isaiah to prepare Judah for her 70 years of captivity in Babylon. Judah deserves to be completely cut off from God’s eternal love. She has worshipped pagan gods alongside of the one, true God. She has largely ignored the law of God plummeting in a downward spiral of immorality and ignorance. In Chapters 49-53 Isaiah has presented the Suffering Servant, who will take upon himself the wrath of God for the sins of the people of God. Isaiah has clearly proclaimed the gospel in Isaiah 53, “All we like sheep have gone astray – everyone to his own way – but the Lord has laid on his Suffering Servant the iniquity of us all!” Directly following this amazing presentation of the Suffering Messiah, Isaiah proclaims God’s merciful and faithful love for his people forever. Isaiah 54-56 is structured according to the covenant promise God made to Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Many Christians read Isaiah 54-50 as promises specific to national Israel and then Isaiah 56 as the inclusion of the Gentiles and thus the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. But such a reading ignores the apostle Paul’s teaching of the church at Galatia. He clearly says that the true children of Abraham are those who have faith in Christ Jesus. Paul learned this from Jesus who told the unbelieving Jews of his day that they were not sons of God but sons of the devil. Jesus taught that those who followed him in doing the will of his heavenly Father were true children of God. Now it is true that Jesus and his apostles maintained the historical order of divine redemption – “to the Jew first and then to the Gentile.” This is a statement of the proclamation of the gospel. As the apostle John wrote in his Gospel: “Jesus came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Isaiah 54 is for all of us who have felt the sting of the prophet’s warning: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God! There is none righteous, no not one!” Just as Judah as she trudged along the rode to Babylonian captivity knew in her heart that she deserved this punishment, so all of us as we reap the consequences of our sins know in our hearts we deserve it. Have you ever wondered if God would ever love you? Have you ever thought, “My sins are so great and so sustained that God will never shower his favor upon me?” The beautiful promises of Isaiah 54 are for you. The gospel is the story of God restoring his love to those of us who don’t deserve it, who are aliens, orphans and captives.
In (1-8) uses the imagery of the disgraced woman to declare his transformational love. Just like a woman who is unable to give birth but miraculously becomes the mother of a countless number of children, so God will transform those of us who have no spiritual ability into a fruitful international community. God is keeping this promise. We are part of it. Just like the young wife who is abandoned by her husband, her life full of shame, but lovingly restored by God, so we will discover that the Creator will redeem us. As a community of faith, God himself will be our faithful husband and we will be his bride free of shame. Just like a widow devalued and bereft but cared for by God, so we will come under the care of the Holy One of Israel. In (8) God says, “In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you.” As Psalm 30 promises, “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping my tarry for the night but joy comes in the morning.” And that dawn of joy is an eternal morning, “the Son of righteousness rising in our hearts.” Have you awakened to that morning or are you still living in the dark night of the soul?
Awake! Christ Jesus has come and your shame has disappeared like the shadows of the night.
In (9-10) God uses the example of his wrath giving way to his love in the days of Noah to encourage us in his eternal love for us. God describes his love for us in three words: 1) My steadfast love; 2) My covenant of peace; and 3) compassion. Firstly, God’s love is unmovable. It is here to stay. “Nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Secondly, God’s love produces a lasting peace. This peace is produced in God’s keeping of his covenant through Jesus Christ. He has broken down the barriers between us and made us one people. He gives to us an internal and a communal peace. Thirdly, God’s love is expressed in tangible ways – God’s compassion is his heart of love displayed in real affection for us. As Ray Ortlund Jr. has commented on this text: “Lavish displays of God’s eternal love.”
In (11-17) God promises to transform the afflicted into an established and opulent nation. Isaiah’s words sound like the apostle John’s description of the heavenly city in his Revelation of Jesus Christ at the conclusion of the Bible: “ The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” God’s love will reach its ultimate fulfillment in the new heavens and the new earth, in the eternal realm where we shall dwell in God’s presence liberated from all sin and every enemy. In (13) we learn that in the new heavens and new earth the family order of this world will give way to a new order. God will directly teach the children unlike the children of this age imperfectly taught by their parents. Righteousness will be established. There shall be no oppression, no fear and no terror.
Perhaps you are tracking with me that these verses describe the new heavens and the new earth rather than a glorious kingdom of God on earth in this age sometime in the future. But you say, “What about (15-17)? The presence of enemies seeking our harm yet unable to do so doesn’t sound like the eternal state.” These verses describe God’s prevention of our enemies storming his heavenly gates in the eternal state. Those who cause us harm are separated from us by a vast gulf between heaven and hell. The blacksmith and Ravager are images of God’s mighty angels preventing hell from storming heaven. On the great and final Day of Judgment, our accusers, including the chief accuser, Satan himself, will have no winning argument before God’s holy bench. God’s Suffering Servant shall be our advocate and all accusations against us shall fall flat as he declares, “These people belong to me; my righteousness is their righteousness; Receive them into your eternal love and protect them in your peace and glory forever.”
The new heavens and new earth are the heritage of the servants of the Lord. The great and final Day of Judgment is our vindication. So much has been said in our day about God’s love for us through Jesus Christ our Redeemer coming to us in this life – and this is certainly true. But such statements often come with a diminishing of God’s complete and final expression of his love for us, namely his dwelling with us forever in his glorious heaven. When I was a boy, Andre Crouch, the hugely popular gospel star sang to sold out crowds: “But if heaven never was promised to me; Neither God’s promise to live eternally; it’s been worth just having the Lord in my life. Living in a world of darkness, but he brought me the light. If there were never any streets of gold; neither a land where we will never grow old; It’s been worth just having the Lord in my life. Living in a world of darkness, but he brought me the light.” As a child this song always bothered me. If God showered upon me his love in this life and then I died disappearing into nothingness with no heavenly communion with my loving God, then I would be sorely disappointed. God’s love would not be everlasting. It would not be steadfast. It would be a temporary covenant of peace. What kind of a compassionate God would love me in this life then cast me into a state of non-existence? In this life we enjoy a foretaste of heaven. There is more to God’s love than his compassion offered to us in this dark night of the soul.
The Suffering Servant did not lay down his life a ransom for many to win God’s love for 75 years, or 2,000 years, or for that matter 10,000 years. Jesus died on the cross, rose from the grave and ascended into heaven charting our coarse into the Father’s heart of love forever. God has not transformed us from barren shamefulness to be his bride striving to be pure and spotless in this world, our sinful nature warring against our spiritual nature. He has made us his pure and spotless bride to be ushered into the eternal Marriage Feast of the Lamb.
How many times have you heard a cynic say, “You Christians are so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.” How many times have our agnostic friends told us, “You Christians always fall back on the life to come instead of living your present and only life to its fullest.” Such sentiments have made the church today hesitant to speak of God’s eternal love for his people in heaven. But here is one of the great components of God’s love for us right now in the midst of our complicated and fragile lives: He has promised to love us in this life and in the next. His love carries us through our present trials, even through our passage of death and into his glorious presence.
Isaiah 56: 1-8
In Chapter 54-56 God declares through his prophet Isaiah, that he will keep his promises made to Abraham: “I will make you into a great nation; I will bless those who bless you; and I will curse those who curse you; Through you all families of the earth shall be blessed.” The historical order of God’s covenant is preserved in these chapters – “to the Jew first and then to the Gentile.” These chapters tell of Messiah atoning for the sins of the whole world, as the apostle John wrote. These are the prophetic words supporting the apostle’s Paul’s teaching, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Messiah.” In Isaiah 54, the focus is upon the restoration of Judah with a hint to eternal reconciliation of all people groups. In Isaiah 55, the invitation is broadcast to “everyone,” Jew and Gentile alike. In Isaiah 56 the focus is upon the foreigner welcomed into God’s community.
Left to the worship of Self, which is rampant in our present day of individualism, divisions among people will flourish like weeds in our spring garden. What is truly interesting and profound about Isaiah 56 is its solution to this problem of human divisiveness. How is it that foreigners, with a heritage apart from God’s covenant, can be welcomed into God’s community? Isaiah writes for us the answer to this question three times with increasing clarity. In short, the only way different groups become one unified people of God is through sole devotion to God, through a practical focus upon God alone. Focus on Self will contribute to division. Focus upon God will promote unity. Devote to your individual interests and you will fracture God’s community. Devote yourself wholly to God and you will contribute to the unity of God’s children from every tongue, tribe and nation.
Isaiah’s first presentation of this answer is found in (1-2). How are different groups of people integrated into the one people of God? The answer is: By keeping the law of God rather than living according to your own personal law. “Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep justice, and do righteousness.’” In the Bible, justice belongs to the God of infinite justice. He has given his law to instruct us how to live according to his justice. The definition of divine justice includes a principle of equity: There is only one and the same Judge for everyone. His law is the only standard for everyone. Biblical justice has everything to do with us putting God and his law first in our behavior and community. Through God’s law, justice assures the right and good for everyone equally.
In the Bible, righteousness is our doing what God has commanded. Righteousness is our living according to God’s laws as opposed to each of us living according to our personal laws. In (1-2) our righteousness is connected to communal obedience to God’s law. In these same verses, our salvation from sin and death and Self is connected to the Messianic righteousness of God. The prophet tells us how to live and in the middle of it all he promises us the coming of Messiah, God’s salvation, the Righteous One. The main message of Isaiah is that God saves us through his suffering Messiah. It is Messiah Jesus who takes the sins of the world upon himself and gives to us his righteousness. Messiah puts an end to selfishness to build God’s community. Any of us who live in this community of justice and righteousness receives a blessing.
This promise of God’s blessing is not only for the Jew, but also for the foreigner. As the Gentiles live according to God’s law they become part of the one community of God. The apostle Paul was correct as he taught about the law of God condemning us and driving us to desperately cling to Jesus Christ the righteous One. This dependence upon Jesus can never be enjoyed by anyone who says “The law does not apply to me and so I can live according to my own selfishness.” Those who cling to Christ are those who have come under the law’s perfect demands for holy living. John Calvin’s summary of the law’s purpose is quite helpful: the law promotes good, deters evil and drives us to Christ.
Isaiah’s answer to the question, “How do foreigners join the worshipping community of God?” in all three presentations comes down to one practical application of the Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” In (2) he writes, “…who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” The first four commandments teach us how to love God and the final six commandments teach us how to love one another. The fourth commandment guides us in shirking Self, devoting our lives wholly unto God. The one who perseveres in this will receive God’s blessing. I profane the Sabbath by putting Self before God. Have you ever struggled with what it means to keep the Sabbath? Think of all the “Yes…but” thoughts you have entertained concerning the fourth commandment? Are they not mostly thoughts about Self against God? As Moses delivers the fourth commandment, he basically says, “You have six days do accomplish what you need for personal needs and one day to acknowledge that everything you need and desire comes from God’s hand.” One day a week you pause from human endeavor to worship God, to remember that he is the ultimate fount of all goodness.
Have you ever longed for an end of evil in your life? One key and central gift God has given to us to rid our behavior of sin seven days a week is to take one day a week to re-focus our devotion upon God alone. Many of us have become confused and thus defeated in our personal holiness as we quickly jump to what certain Christian groups have said about keeping the Sabbath. Should we eat in a restaurant on Sundays? This is the wrong question to ask. The text for this question is not Isaiah 56 or Exodus 20, but some uninspired text of helpful, well-meaning human beings. The question that arises from Isaiah 56 is this: What should I do today to express my utter devotion to God over my love of Self? You may respond, “But should I not ask this question every day of the week?” Yes, we should be devoted to God 24/7. In his Sabbath law God has given to us a way by which we come to be devoted to him 24/7 – it is profoundly this: Set aside one day to focus and to devote the whole of your life upon God.
Isaiah answers the question a second time in (3-5). Have you ever felt like an outsider in the worshipping community of God? You have put your faith in God and are seeking to follow Jesus but you fear that at any time you might become separated from God’s community. Isaiah gives to us the example of the eunuch, who undoubtedly feels like an outsider. His life has been reduced to his individual service; he has no hope of propagating a new generation of worshippers of God. Does his life have any meaning and value in the community? Or is he merely a slave of productive and influential members of God’s people? Perhaps you have held such a low view of yourself – “Behold, I am a dry tree!” Ironically, selfishness, not castration, results in such spiritual impotency. How does an outsider become an active member of God’s community?
Here is the good news: any foreigner, even a eunuch, who has been barred from temple worship by the very law of God, can join the community of faith! How does the eunuch gain entrance into the household of God? Read (4), “…who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me, and hold fast to my covenant.” He puts God first by observing God’s day, by observing all of God’s commandments and clinging to the covenant. What is the covenant? It is that enduring relationship between God and his people established, maintained and fulfilled through the gracious work of God alone, centered upon the covenant keeper, the Messiah of all people groups. This barren foreigner, this eunuch, who has nothing of himself to contribute to the growing number of the community, is honored above all others, given an everlasting name, that is a permanent identity in union with God, never to be cut off! The less you have to contribute to the community, the more your life proclaims the work of God as the sole cause of your inclusion into the community. Remember the lines of the hymn, “Rock of Ages,” “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling/ Naked come to thee for dress, helpless look to thee for grace/ Foul I to the fountain fly, wash me Savior, or I die.” If you are able to personally own such a condition and reliance upon Jesus, then you will be given an everlasting name and place in God’s community.
Isaiah’s third presentation of the answer to our question is found in (6-8). Members of God’s community are not defined by bloodline but by their relationship with God by faith in Messiah. Have you joined yourself to the Lord? That is, have you heard God’s sincere offer to unite you to Jesus’ death and resurrection and thus to his eternal love? Have you by faith responded and received this gracious gift? If so, then you have joined yourself to the Lord. Are you serving God, that is, putting his interests and mission first in your life, over and against your own interests and personal mission? Then you are a minister of God. Do you love the name of the Lord? Have you come to view yourself as one wholly identified by the name of Christ Jesus? If so, then you are a member of God’s community for all eternity. How do you practically and regularly express your relationship to God? Read the final three clauses of (6): “…everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant.”
The wicked irony of our present day is that we search high and low for practical applications of our salvation, but discount the clear and practical applications supplied us in God’s Holy Word. We ask the question, “How should I live now that I have become a member of God’s community?” When God says, “Keep the fourth commandment,” we say, “Anything but that! Give to me a different practical tip – something that will suit my selfishness.” God says, “If you begin to regularly express your relationship to me through regular and actual law-abiding behavior, I will welcome you into my abiding and eternal community. You will become one more proof that I have kept my promises to make my house a house of prayer for all peoples.” How does God’s community become a House of Prayer for all peoples? Well, it happens as all peoples are gathered together to pray. It happens one person at a time. As you devote yourself to prayer in God’s community you become proof of God’s promise: “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
In (8) God brings the two groups of Isaiah 54-56 together. “The Lord God who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, ‘I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.’” God says, “gather to him.” To whom does he refer? Who is the Person to whom all different groups of people are gathered into God’s community? The answer is, “The Suffering Servant,” the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who said to his followers, “All that the Father has given to me shall come to me, and all who come to me I will never cast out.”
The Gospel, Ritual and Your Heart
Isaiah’s sublime prophecy, full of rich imagery has exploded with the clear gospel proclamation of Chapter 53: The Lord will place upon his Suffering Servant the iniquity of us all! The Suffering Servant is “cut off” so that those who far away from God’s love might never be “cut off.” In Chapter 56, the foreigner and the eunuch shall be welcomed into the House of God, and they shall never be “cut off.” After I preached Isaiah 56 this past Sunday, our elder Charlie Meeker summarized it in these words: “The foreigner, who has no ancestors in God’s family is welcomed. The eunuch, who has no hope of future children is welcomed into the family God!” The gospel is good for those who have lived far away from God’s community.
The gospel is also good news for those who have lived for years within the walls of God’s community. If you have long been a member of the church, then the gospel is also good for you. In Chapter 58, Isaiah returns to this gospel presentation – one specifically addressed to Judah, the visible community of God huddled around his holy temple. God commands his prophet, Isaiah, to proclaim as loudly as a trumpet blast, his gospel to Judah and to any of us who have lived at the center of God’s community. Like most gospel proclamations, Isaiah’s message begins with an honest and painful declaration of the sins of God’s people. Have you ever heard a non-Christian say, “The church is full of hypocrites”? It’s true. We members of the church know that we are often hypocritical. We need the gospel of Isaiah 58.
Judah had maintained the religious practices commanded in God’s law. But she had added to these acts of true worship many pagan rites. Many temple worshippers had maintained visible conformity to God’s laws but had lost any heart devotion to God. Many of Judah were not only entering the temple to pray but they were also climbing nearby mountains to commit idolatry. You can read about this idolatry in Isaiah 57. But even in her adherence to God’s laws of worship, Judah’s heart was far from God. In (2) Judah’s behavior is exposed: Her daily devotion is an outward conformity. Her delight is in the outward expressions of religion “as IF they were a nation that did righteousness.” This has prompted many evangelical Christians today to say, “Religious practices are unimportant. Ritual is outward conformity and so we will seek God with our whole heart and abandon rituals.” But this is wrong headed. The rituals of worship are designed to promote hearts devoted to God. God gives to us ceremonies of worship so that we can express our devotion to him alone. We need both. Judah’s sin was not that she maintained rituals but that she did so without her heart devoted to God alone. It’s not a “either/or” but a “both/and.”
Some sincere church members say, “I don’t need to partake of the Lord’s Supper. The whole point of communion is to remember Jesus, his death for my salvation. And so, I don’t need to participate publicly in the signs.” But our partaking of the Lord’s Supper is the expression of our remembrance of the one who has embraced us with his nail pierced hands. Some sincere Christians say, “I don’t go to corporate worship anymore. My Christian faith is a private exercise. The institutionalized church does nothing for me anymore.” This is the opposite of Judah’s sin described in our text. Nevertheless, it is a dangerous departure from true worship. Judah was active in corporate worship yet offering all her rituals from cold hearts. The gospel is good for any of us who regularly go to church but whose hearts are far from God.
Isaiah uses the example of one particular religious practice- fasting. In (3) Judah asks God, “Why have we fasted and you see it not?” God’s answer is that Judah’s visible expression of humility through fasting is not connected to true humility of the heart wholly dependent upon God. A fast is an outward exercise that helps us to realize our utter dependence upon God. My stomach grumbles from lack of food and I pray, “O God, feed me the bread of heaven. I hunger and thirst for you.” But Judah was fasting then saying, “We are spiritual rock stars.” Worse yet, God tells Judah that her motivation to fast is the pursuit of selfish pleasure.
Remember the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who prays full of pride in the temple: “O God, I thank you that I am not like other men, exortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I get….” The point of Jesus’ parable is not to relieve us of religious expression but to kill our pride and to land us wholly dependent upon God. The Pharisees’ sin was self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. Fasting is designed as an expression of utter dependence upon God. Tithing is a holy duty through which we acknowledge that all we have belongs to God. Such practices are designed to lead us further into the heart of God, moving us to be his hands and feet in this dark world. What kind of selfish pleasure did Judah derive from fasting? She derived pleasure from thinking, “I have completed my religious obligation and so I am a spiritual rock star.”
Isaiah not only pinpoints Judah’s sinful motivation of selfish pleasure in rituals like fasting, but he also exposes the destructive results of such hypocrisy: “Behold in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure and oppress all your workers.” Many in Judah completed individual obligations like fasting and at the same time cared not for their neighbors. Imagine a man in Judah, who keeps his fasts but mistreats his employees. Or in (4) imagine a man in Judah who regularly fasts but is quick to pick a fight with his neighbor. The wicked irony of such behavior is exposed in God’s response in (5): Fasting should express our repentance, humility and dependence upon God. Fasting should not express our spiritual superiority leading to our mistreat-ment of neighbors and employees we deem inferior to us.
In (6-7) God’s questions are not to be answered by our abandonment of fasting or any other ritual, replacing them with deeds of love and mercy to the unfortunate. Rather, God’s questions lead us to add to our fasting other behaviors that match the meaning of the fast. If we fast, expressing our utter need of God, then we would also work to relieve the needs of our neighbors. Read (7): If we fast, then we would have more food to share with the hungry. On Easter morning Daniel Meeker and Nathan Werner presented to us their mission among the homeless in Portland. The eyes and hearts of these two teenage members of Evergreen have been opened to the needs of our neighbors and they told us of their discovery that there is little difference between us who have bread and those who lack it. As God says in (7), fasting reminds us that we share the same flesh with the person who has no clothes. We are all in the same boat as members of a fallen race. Fasting helps us to remember this sober truth. For a brief period of fasting we are more apt to remember the hungry and to do something for them. I want to publicly thank these two boys for their ministry to us on Easter morning.
In (8-12) Isaiah presents the glorious benefits of the gospel as we live according to it. When our religious disciplines warm our hearts to God and his mission in this world, then “our light breaks forth like the dawn.” The world can see the light of Christ in our behavior – in our fasting coupled with deeds of mercy! Living according to the gospel brings healing to us! Our righteousness, the very mark of Jesus upon us precedes us so that others recognize that we have the bread of life! The very glory of God is our train. Wherever we walk, doing the deeds of God, we leave trailing behind us that display of God’s powerful and loving presence. Listen to this good news! If you desire to know God and to feel his presence, then heed Isaiah’s gospel. If you live according to these words then as you seek God, he will say, “Here I am.” As you do the work of God, then you will enjoy his presence. His presence with you will be active. He will guide you continually and he will satisfy your desire. Look at (10 and 11) together: “if you satisfy the desire of the afflicted….then the Lord will satisfy your desire….”
This gospel not only refreshes and strengthens us as individuals but it restores the entire community! “Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations….” Living according to the gospel builds a multi-generational and sustainable community of God. What we have lost in the community of our day shall be regained as we return to fasting and good deeds, expressions of so great a salvation we have received freely from God’s Messiah – Jesus Christ, who has gone before us into heaven. Until he returns for us, we can bring a little bit of heaven into our present day through being his hands and feet in a world in desperate need of not only bread in the stomach but the Holy Spirit in the heart. Jesus has given us bread greater than Manna. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
One central and practical way God has supplied us so that we can live according to this gospel is the Sabbath law. We have been given one day in seven to refocus our lives 24/7 upon God and his mission. As we seek to do God’s pleasure on the one day, we begin to seek his pleasure all the days of our lives. Read (13): Do you “call the Sabbath a delight”? Or do you view it merely as an intrusive obligation? When we change our view of the Fourth Commandment from unwelcome divine intrusion to the delightful rest from all our worldly labors, wholly devoted to God, then we enter into God’s transformation of all the wrong constructed in this selfish world. This is a huge and cultural paradigm shift, one that is desperately needed among all of us who complain about the world going to hell in a hand basket.
You might say, “I am so busy living according to the gospel Monday through Saturday that I need to rest on Sunday. Fair enough. Take some time to rest on Sunday. Celebrate the beginning of a new week wholly devoted to God. Call the Sabbath a delight. Do not allow the six days to inform the one day. Allow the Lord’s Day to inform the six days. Cease from your regular labors and do something different – something that will answer the question: “What should I do today to express my utter devotion to God over my love of Self?” If you take this view then you will begin to honor the holy day of the Lord. You will cease to go your own ways, seeking your own pleasure or talking idly. Let us talk more about God and his ways. Let us join Daniel and Nathan in offering our hearts to those who need the bread of heaven. Such a change in view and practice will not impoverish us, robbing us of time and money but will bring delight and blessing just as (14) promises. God promises, “I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob.” Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Let us crave the bread of heaven, Jesus Christ, who gives life to the world.”
“The Glorious Ends of God’s Promises”
God is continually at work to redeem and to restore his people. The voice of Isaiah 62 is the very voice of God. Not only through his prophet Isaiah but also through his abiding word in all ages, he promises to reconcile us to himself and to one another toward these glorious ends described in our text. Have you ever thought God to be silent in the midst of this broken world? Have you wished that you could hear his voice speak promises and fulfillment into your less than perfect life? The God of Isaiah refuses to be silent. He speaks continually, the very power of his word producing the restoration of his people just as his powerful word created light at the dawn of time.
This past Sunday Keith preached from Isaiah 61 teaching us that some of God’s word is fulfilled in the generation of Isaiah and that some of it is fulfilled at the culmination of this world when God will usher us into his new heavens and new earth. These two fulfillments are slapped together in the prophecy so that it is as if we are seeing the foothills of the Cascades against Mt. Hood with no valleys between them. As God speaks in (1) we discover that he is working progressively from the foothills of the ancient past through the valleys of human history all the way to the summit of his heavenly Mount Zion. God’s redemptive and restorative work is an unfolding work.
At this present moment God is not finished with this world and he still has work to do in each of us. For God nothing is impossible. For God this work is not laborious, difficult or lacking in passionate power. For us, who suffer in the valleys and who feel the pain of the upward climb, it seems at times that God is not doing enough to redeem and to restore. But through our suffering and in the climb he is perfectly working out his holy will for our good. For the sake of his holy city, he is working through his powerful word. God said, “Let there be light,” and “there was light.” But his work in producing the light of righteousness in us is an unfolding project. After Isaiah penned these words God chose to take 700 years before he sent his Son to die on the cross to atone for our sins. In Christ’s death, once for all, God has made us righteous. In God’s eyes, all of us who are in Christ are new creatures, the old has passed and behold the new has arrived! But again, God has chosen to progressively work this legal righteousness into the righteousness of our behavior through the Holy Spirit working within us.
At the coming of Jesus Christ, the salvation of God’s people became a burning torch. Now in these last days the torch burns all the brighter with every individual conversion and with every step of personal sanctification. The church becomes the city on the hill whose light cannot be hidden. God’s good work is truly the transformation of the earthbound Jerusalem into the heavenly city whose architect and builder is God. From the medieval period to the present Christians have made pilgrimage to the earthly Jerusalem disappointed in its political and religious divisions yet fascinated with its history and archaeology. Many pilgrims at the wailing wall have prayed for the restoration of Jerusalem, some of them never dreaming that Jesus is busy in heaven doing just that – preparing a heavenly city for our eternal dwelling.
In Isaiah 62 God promises the restoration of Jerusalem. He promises to complete his work to its glorious ends. Please consider with me these glorious ends. Firstly in (2) God promises that his restoration of Jerusalem will be seen by the world. God is making good his promise in gathering to himself a people. After all, Jerusalem is the city where God dwells in the midst of his people. Jerusalem is not stones, streets, bazaars, water systems and palaces but people. The temple is not merely a building but a community of worshippers. The world will see the righteousness of God’s people, namely Messiah, the Righteous One who makes God’s people holy, fit for fellowship with the Lord of heaven and earth. The world will see the glory of God’s people, namely Messiah, the risen One who has conquered sin and death to shine as the morning star in heaven where he is enthroned upon the praises of his people. The world will refer to God’s people by a new name – not the name of a family, tribe, city or nation but by the very name of the One who has identified wholly with his people, sharing with them his name.
Secondly in (3) God promises to restore his people to royal splendor as his prized possession. God holds his people in his hand expressing his ownership of a trophy highly valued for all eternity. He finds his people to be beautiful. Just as a king is crowned with precious gems so God is crowned with his precious people. God did send Judah into Babylonian exile for 70 years separating his people from the land he gave to them. But now he promises to restore his people to himself and to a new and eternal land.
This glorious end of the restoration of land and people is described in (4-5) as a marriage. The groom is the people of God and the bride is the land. God’s people will no more be called “Forsaken,” that is the disowned son for whom a father refuses to choose a bride. The land shall no more be called “Desolate,” that is the barren spinster who has no hope of marital bliss and motherhood. Judah in exile for 70 years is not the end of the story. Your present sufferings are not the end of the story. Jerusalem a haunt for jackals and the fertile fields of Judah consumed by brambles is not the end of the story. Your earthly estate is not the sum total of God’s provision for you. God is working on a marriage grander than our present marriage to all his material gifts to us in this age. His greater marriage is our landing a home in the new heavens and new earth, where people and land shall flourish into an eternal and glorious culture to the glory of God.
The people will call this heavenly land, “My Delight Is in Her.” Remember, Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of four kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. When Judah heard Isaiah proclaim that the groom would call his bride, “My Delight Is in Her,” they would have instantly thought of their present king, Hezekiah, whose wife’s name was Hephzibah, the Hebrew name meaning, “My Delight Is in Her.” What a beautiful name for a cherished wife! This glorious end God promises is not only our present longing for the new heavens and new earth, but also it will be our eternal joy to live on the banks of the river flowing from God’s throne, lined with the evergreen trees of healing properties. This heavenly land will be called, “Married,” that is wholly devoted to its groom, the people of God. Some of God’s eternal delight will be to see his people delight in his eternal gift to them. The groom, that is God’s people will delight in the bride, that is the new heavens and new earth and God will delight in his people flourishing in this heavenly land. The glorious end of God’s promises in Isaiah 62 is nothing less than heaven.
In (6-7) the people of God waiting for this glorious end to come echo the ever-speaking God of (1). He is not silent and so his people are not silent but ever praising him with a certain hope that he will keep his promises to this glorious end of heaven. In this world God’s people will never rest from praising God who has given to us the down payment of his promises in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. We who claim Christ as Lord are 24/7 on the walls of the church proclaiming the praises of God in the hearing of this dark and evil world.
In the remaining verses of Isaiah 62 the people of God are marshaled to be divine instruments preparing the way for the fulfillment of these promises. In (8-9) God promises to feed and to water those who praise him in his sanctuary. These well-fed worshippers are commanded in (10) to build a highway for the arrival of God and to signal the nations proclaiming his coming. God’s command to prepare for his arrival has gone to all of his people, even to the end of the earth. All of us who belong to God, who desire to dwell with him and to receive these glorious and eternal gifts are commanded to proclaim the coming of God. The building of the highway is the proclamation of God’s coming. The clearing of stones is the ridding of the gospel and the whole counsel of God’s word from error that could cause the stumbling of confusion and delusion. The signal is our pointing everyone to the one Man, Christ Jesus, the divine Lord and King of the universe. “The signal over the peoples” is our proclaiming of the gospel to those who have yet to submit to this coming God.
In (11) God describes the domain of his people as the entire earth and this is why he projects his command of his people to the end of the earth. God also describes the familial and royal nature of his people in the name, “daughter of Zion.” We are thus commanded to proclaim the coming of God to all the royal children of God, that is to everyone who believes that Jesus Christ is the King of Kings. This proclamation is the gospel for the followers of Christ. The gospel, as you know, is good for believer and unbeliever. This gospel proclamation has the purpose of encouraging the people of God to persevere until the great and Final Day when God shall fulfill his promises to their glorious ends.
In (11) God scripts our proclamation of the gospel for believers: “Behold, your salvation comes!” This coming God is the Savior of the world. He is the one who will redeem and restore his people. We are not to think that our salvation is merely a condition of freedom from our enemies, a spiritual peace we enjoy as a gift from God’s hand. It is that and more! It is God himself coming to dwell with us! We know that this salvation is the coming of a personal God as the script unfolds: “Behold, his reward is with him!” In the first line of the gospel, “your salvation,” is now a Person in the second line. Our salvation is the coming of our Savior! His reward is all of these glorious ends described in Isaiah 62. The third line of the gospel for believers is this: “and his recompense before him!” Recompense means a reward or compensation given to someone who has suffered harm and loss. Recompense in line three is synonymous with “reward” in line two. But it tells us a little more about how our Savior won his reward: he did so by suffering harm and loss! He did so by giving his life a ransom for many. Here we read of the coming of Messiah not his first advent or his second advent, but his one glorious coming from his incarnation to his exaltation.
Just as salvation is described in (11) as the Person of Messiah, so “recompense,” the reward of the suffering Messiah is now described in (12) as “The Holy People,” and “The Redeemed of the Lord.” We are Messiah’s reward for his suffering! We have been described as the gems in the crown God holds in his hand, his precious possession. Now, we are described as the trophy of Christ, his reward for his death on the cross! Just as God boasted in ancient times, “Have you seen my servant Job? He is blameless in all his ways” so God says in these last days, “Have you seen my gospel proclaiming people? They are the Holy Ones, the Redeemed of the Lord!” God shall call us, “Sought out,” that is, we are the ones God has come on the highway to find. He has come looking for us in the crags, pits and crevasses of this cursed world and he has found us bearing us on his shoulders, returning to the heavenly city rejoicing. God shall call us, “A City Not Forsaken,” that is the entire number of God’s people gathered for eternity in his glorious presence where there is no more sorrow, no more brokenness, no more sin and no more sickness. The haunt of jackals has become the thriving metropolis. The apostle Paul captures the whole of Isaiah 62 in these words he wrote to the church at Corinth: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus Christ. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”
Isaiah 65: 17-25
“The New Heavens and the New Earth”
Isaiah’s prophecy describes for us the eternal realm, our future home in the presence of our loving God. Have you ever wondered to what extent heaven will be similar to this world in which we presently live? Francis Schaeffer wrote about our wonderment of heaven, “The Christian is the really free man—he is free to have imagination. This too is our heritage. The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.” Will Rogers said, “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” Our longing for heaven includes a longing for everything good we have enjoyed in this world to be glorified in an eternal state. C.S. Lewis in “The Great Divorce,” writes, “I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches Heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) has not been lost: that the kernel of what he was really seeking even in his most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in ‘the High Countries’.” In his book, “Heaven,” Randy Alcorn coins a word, “Christoplatonism,” to describe a false idea of heaven based upon the assumption that our physical bodies are a hindrance to good and ideal spiritual experience. He writes, “The best on earth is a glimpse of heaven…. For the Christian, death is not the end of adventure but a doorway from a world where dreams and adventures shrink, to a world where dreams and adventures forever expand.”
Isaiah 65 supplies us with a strong correlation between this present world and the heavenly eternal realm. Firstly, God is the Creator of both: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” As God speaks his promises through Isaiah we read, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth.” The correlation is sufficiently described in the words, “new heavens and a new earth.” Everything good we know of this present world is essentially the order, structure, beauty, truth and goodness of the new heavens and the new earth. The fingerprints and signature of any author makes his work recognizable. If you have enjoyed several of Beethoven’s masterpieces, you are apt to recognize another piece of his music you are hearing for the first time. If you have viewed several of Rembrandt’s paintings then you may easily assign one of his paintings you are seeing for the first time as his authentic work. If you read a Walker Percy novel, then open another, as you read you hear his voice, style and expression once again. If you have lived in this world, albeit cursed by human sin, then you have caught glimpses of heaven.
“The former things shall not be remembered or come into mind,” is God’s promise that all evil, suffering, sin and brokenness shall slip our minds in the new heavens and the new earth.” As we sing the eternal songs of heaven including, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,” we shall remember the work of Jesus putting an end to evil once for all. We shall never again hold in our minds and hearts the pain and trouble of this world apart from the finished work of the triumphant Lamb. The correlations abound and some of them are listed in our text. In (18) God promises to create Jerusalem, the dwelling of God with his people. God rejoices in us and we rejoice in him. Randy Alcorn writes, “Being with God is the heart and soul of Heaven. Every other heavenly pleasure will derive from and be secondary to his presence. God’s greatest gift to us is, and always will be, himself.”
In (21-22) our life experience will continue to be productive and familial. We will build, plant and reap. The Garden of Eden correlates to the eternal garden. God made us to work and so we shall work for all eternity. In (25) the animals we know in this world will also live in the world to come. While Will Rogers wondered about his beloved dog, C.S. Lewis wondered about his precious books. He wrote in his collection of essays, God in the Dock: “My friend said, ‘I don’t see why there shouldn’t be books in Heaven. But you will find that your library in Heaven contains only some of the books you had on earth.’ ‘Which?’ I asked. ‘The ones you gave away or lent.’ ‘I hope the lent ones won’t still have all the borrowers’ dirty thumb marks,’ said I. ‘Oh yes they will,’ said he. ‘But just as the wounds of the martyrs will have turned into beauties, so you will find that the thumb-marks have turned into beautiful illuminated capitals or exquisite marginal woodcuts.’”
Much of what we have experienced in this world will not correlate to our heavenly home. This is good news for all of us who have suffered in this world. Our longing for heaven is not merely the unfettered pursuit of everything good in this life, but it is also our deep desire to be free of everything wrong with this cursed world. The heavenly city is a tear free zone. There will be no more weeping, no more cries of distress. The apostle John echoes this promise as he writes in The Revelation of Jesus Christ, “God will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” In (20) we read this beautiful promise that no infant shall die. In this present world our grief is intensified in every death of a loved one, especially in the death of a little child.
In (21-23) we read an allusion to Judah’s Babylonian captivity. Judah was dragged away from their homes and fields. Those who did not build and cultivate squatted for 70 years enjoying the labors and fruit of those in captivity. In the new heavens and new earth, no one shall seize our homes and land. We shall enjoy home and garden for an eternal season of fruitfulness and contentment. Our children shall never be wrested from the security and love of family and home, the brunt of prejudice and disadvantage in a foreign land. Our children shall enjoy the fatherhood of God unspoiled by the injustices of this world. God’s answers to our children’s prayers will no longer be “No,” or “Wait a little while,” but rather his answers shall be instantly “Yes,” so immediate that his blessed gifts shall flow even before one wishes them.
In (25) the animal kingdom will be freed from the cruel food chain. The prowling and ravishing of beasts in this world will give way to peaceful co-habitation. Mogli, the Lewis cat, has already achieved this heavenly state of peaceful co-habitation. Though she has yet to exhaust her nine lives, she no longer chases the horde of squirrels in our garden and she has stopped her stalking of Jackson’s rabbits as they free range in our backyard. The lion will go vegetarian and the snake will no longer swallow rodents. “’They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord.”
When I was a child, a teenage girl dove off a jetty into the ocean and she floated to the surface of the water a quadriplegic. Joni Eareckson Tada wrote these words in her booklet, Hope . . . The Best of Things: “I sure hope I can bring this wheelchair to heaven. Now, I know that’s not theologically correct. But I hope to bring it and put it in a little corner of heaven, and then in my new, perfect, glorified body, standing on grateful glorified legs, I’ll stand next to my Savior, holding his nail-pierced hands. I’ll say, “Thank you, Jesus,” and he will know that I mean it, because he knows me. He’ll recognize me from the fellowship we’re now sharing in his sufferings. And I will say, “Jesus, do you see that wheelchair? You were right when you said that in this world we would have trouble, because that thing was a lot of trouble. But the weaker I was in that thing, the harder I leaned on you. And the harder I leaned on you, the stronger I discovered you to be. It never would have happened had you not given me the bruising of the blessing of that wheelchair.” Then the real ticker-tape parade of praise will begin. And all of earth will join in the party. And at that point Christ will open up our eyes to the great fountain of joy in his heart for us beyond all that we ever experienced on earth. And when we’re able to stop laughing and crying, the Lord Jesus really will wipe away our tears. I find it so poignant that finally at the point when I do have the use of my arms to wipe away my own tears, I won’t have to, because God will.”
Before Joni dove into the ocean she had put her faith in Jesus Christ the risen Lord Jesus who has gone into heaven before us to prepare for us an eternal dwelling. Through out her life, she has not only learned to paint with a brush in her mouth, and to humbly allow others to bathe and transport her, but she has also learned to tune her heart to sing God’s praises. Somehow, through her great suffering she has learned to express gratefulness and hope. This is nothing less than the work of the Holy Spirit in her. In her wheelchair she stands between those who scorn God for allowing pain and suffering and their dogmatic convictions of a dead God and an eternal nothingness when this old earth stops spinning around a dying sun.
No matter how difficult your present life proves to be, you can respond in faith to God who has sent his Son into this world, not to condemn the world but to save the world. “Whoever believes in Jesus Christ is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.’”
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