A Majestic Vision of Christ (Isaiah Sermon 81 of 81)
February 26, 2017 | Andrew Davis
A Flyover of Isaiah
Amen. So this morning, just right before worship, I was talking to a young man and he looked at where I usually put the sermon outline, and he said, "Are you preaching about nothing today?" So, I'm not preaching about nothing, there's going to be a lot. I just couldn't give an outline for the Book of Isaiah.
About six years ago, I was invited by Danny Aikin and David Platt to do a commentary on the Book of Isaiah. And they said two things, they said you can have five years to do it and that it's not supposed to be a verse-by-verse commentary. Well, I knew right away I was going to take the whole five years, that was a given. But the thing that was an agony to me was that I wouldn't be able to go into every verse like I love and to celebrate the truth and wring the truth out of each verse. But sometimes I think it's valuable to do that. For us, the saying of an individual, you can't see the forest for the trees. They're so focused on details, they can't see the big picture. But the beauty of the word of God is that both the trees, the individual details and the whole glorious forest are radiant with truth and that the tiniest details can bear the closest scrutiny and investigation but so also the big overarching story is worth studying as well.
So this morning we're going to go through the whole Book of Isaiah, as Chris said, a kind of a flyover. Some years ago I was at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, and I saw an IMAX movie which was a kind of a flyover of the continental US, and it was really cool. They timed it so that the length of the movie, I think an hour. They began in New York Harbor looking at the Statue of Liberty and then went across, and you're just moving it at just the right pace to get across the entire span of the continental US, and you're seeing the hills of Pennsylvania, the farms of Pennsylvania and then the coal mining district of Western Pennsylvania, then on and you know, the cities like Cincinnati and then as you kept going across the corn fields of Indiana and then across the... You know, swung down to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the gateway to the west and then you're moving across all the wheat fields of Kansas, it was just beautiful, the deserts of Nevada and Utah. And then, Yosemite, the Half Dome and finally the sparkling sea, the Pacific and the Pacific Northwest, and how beautiful that was along that coast, and I'll never forget it. And I thought it might... It's just an amazing thing to be able to figure out how to do that, what height to fly at, how high, how low, and what you could see, when to go faster, when to slow down. And it was really cool.
So I want to try to do some of that with the Book of Isaiah today, the most visionary of all prophets. That's how Isaiah begins. The word of the Lord that Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw. So he's just a visionary prophet. Toward the beginning of my Christian life, I heard one of the best sermons I ever heard from John McArthur and he's been a role model and a mentor for me in terms of verse-by-verse exposition and sequential exposition which I believe in. But this sermon was entitled, A Jet Tour Through the Book of Revelation. And it was really cool because he went through the whole book of Revelation in one hour. It's ironic because that's where we're going, God willing, next. And I'm not doing any jet tour next week. We're going to begin to go through those chapters. But I love the way he gave a fascinating overview of the entire book in one hour.
Now if anything, the Book of Isaiah would repay even more that kind of handling and special handling as we study through the themes that are so rich and so full. And I have less than one hour with you today. Now there are lots of ways that I could do this, this overview of the whole Book of Isaiah but it seems best for me to focus on how the prophecy of Isaiah unfolds salvation, or foretells really, salvation in Christ. That's going to be the center piece of what I'm looking for. Now, I could go topically and logically through the book in a theologically and a logically organized manner, letting the topics dictate what verses I would bring out. But that would result in a confusing jump around through the book from this chapter up ahead to this one, and then back again to this and then zeroing on this and then... It's like, it'd be jumping all around. And I thought it might be better to go in consecutive order, honoring the way that the Holy Spirit has given us the book, beginning at chapter 1 through chapter 66. My goal is to present or see how the book presents the amazing grace of God in Christ as the savior of the world.
Now, what I'm going to do is I'm going to project on the screen these cross references so that you don't have to jump around. We're going to be going fast and I want you to be able to see it so that you're free from having to jump ahead in the book and just look and read or just listen as you do it. But I know that Mark is happy to try to stick with me. You're ready, brother?
But the first verse that I wanted to share is actually from Revelation 19:10, and it says there, "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. In other words, the essence, the spirit of prophecy is to give witness to Jesus. So the central purpose of the majestic sprawling complex vision of the Book of Isaiah is to give testimony of Jesus. Now, John says this incredible thing about Isaiah in the Gospel of John, in John 12:41, that Isaiah saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him. Now essential to that is the ability that God alone possesses to predict the future and this sets Christianity apart from every other world religion.
God challenged the idols of Isaiah’s day
You heard Chris focus on this just a few minutes ago, but these are some amazing verses. God challenged the idols of Isaiah's day with this challenge. Isaiah 41:22-23, it says, "Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were so that we may consider them and know their final outcome or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what the future holds so that we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear." The idols can't do it. There's no way the idols can predict the future, only God can. And again, Isaiah 41:26-27, "Who told of this from the beginning, so that we could know or beforehand, so we could say, he was right. No one told of this. No one foretold it, no one heard any words from you. I was the first to tell Zion." And then skipping ahead to Isaiah 46:9-10, "Remember the former things those of long ago, 'I am God and there is no other, I am God and there is none like me, I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is still to come. I say my purpose will stand and I will do all that I please.'" So God in the Book of Isaiah makes plain that he is the only one that can predict the future. He's the only one that has that power. God alone can predict the future because he alone is sovereign over the unfolding events of human history. He decrees what comes to pass and then he makes it happen.
What makes Isaiah so amazing and so challenging is how God weaves together events from planet Earth, things that were current in that day and things that were unfolding in at that time, including the rise and fall of nations at that time, together with his spiritual plans for the redeemed of all nations, of all time, he weaves that together. So the coming of Christ was predicted and unfolded in great detail in the Book of Isaiah.
Now, when I first went through Isaiah in its entirety with the idea of doing this sermon, I zeroed in on 36 passages to highlight, and I just started to do the math, and I said, "Okay, that's less than a minute for each one." I'd barely have enough time to read them so I reduced it somewhat, but as I was going over this sermon this morning, I realized I barely have enough time to talk about each of them. So this is definitely a jet tour flyover. However, this is my 80th sermon in the Book of Isaiah, and I think all of them are online. So if you want to go back and dive into some of the more details I think they're available online.
The Sinfulness of the Human Race and God’s Call to Repent
We're going to begin in Isaiah 1:2-4 with the sinfulness of the human race and God's call to repent. The prophecy begins with these words, "Hear O heavens, listen O Earth, for the Lord has spoken. I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger. But Israel does not know, my people do not understand. Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption. They have forsaken the Lord. They have spurned the Holy One of Israel, and turned their backs on him." God called a nation, the Jews, Israel to represent the entire human race. God gave them many blessings, but they refused to trust him, they refused to obey him, so God had to bring judgments on them.
Now, the depravity of the entire human race is taught with great clarity throughout the book. But the focus is first and foremost on the Jews on Israel, and their sinfulness. So God calls on the people to repent of their sins and to reason with him. Right there in that first chapter, Isaiah 1:16-20, there he calls on the people, "Wash and make yourselves clean, take your evil deeds out of my sight. Stop doing wrong, learn to do right. Seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless. Plead the case of the widow. Come now, let us reason together says the Lord, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow, though they are red as crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you'll eat the best from the land, but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
Now, this sets the stage of the whole book really. The people actually cannot obey those commands, they cannot. They cannot wash and make themselves clean. They cannot take their evil deeds out of God's sight, they cannot stop doing wrong, they cannot learn to do right. But Christ can do all of those things for us. Indeed, he has done all of those things for us. Christ can change our rebellious ways. Christ has the power to remove the heart of stone and give the heart of flesh. He has the power through his shed blood to atone for our sins, and to give us a new nature, and enable us to walk in God's ways.
The Vision of the Entire World Streaming to Salvation in Christ
Now, the next is the vision of the entire world streaming to God in Christ. In Isaiah 2:2-4, it says, "In the last days, the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains, will be raised above the hills and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, 'Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways so that we may walk in His paths. The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, He will judge between the nations and settle disputes for many peoples, they will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.'"
Now, this is one of many verses in Isaiah that speak of the gospel spreading to the ends of the Earth, beginning in Jerusalem. It's going to spread to all nations and in this text, it says they're going to stream up Mount Zion effectively. You have this incredible image of a supernatural streaming of the nations uphill, counter to all laws of physics and gravity. And they're going to stream to Mount Zion by faith in Christ. And they will both come and they will say, "Come." In other words the spiritual pilgrimage that we are on as we follow Christ who is the way and the truth and the life, and we come to the Father through Him, as we're streaming to the heavenly Jerusalem, we are also evangelists and missionaries, we're not only coming but we are saying, "Come," to the nations, and we have both of those roles to play.
The Vision of the Preincarnate Christ on His Throne
Next, we have already the vision that's been read for us this morning by Jason. The vision of Isaiah's call and the pre-incarnate Christ on his throne. When the Apostle John said that Isaiah saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him, we can think first and foremost of Isaiah 6. In verse 1-4 it says, "In the year of the King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted. And the train of his robe filled the temple, and above him were seraphs, each with six wings. And with two wings, they covered their faces, and with two, they covered their feet, and with two, they were flying and they were calling to one another, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty, the whole Earth is full of his glory.' And at the sound of their voices, the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke."
This is a vision of the pre-incarnate Christ, seated on his throne, worshiped by angels and by spiritual beings, holy angels and they're crying out. And this brings a tremendous sense of guilt in Isaiah himself, verses 5-7, he says, "'Woe is me, I am ruined, for I am a man of unclean lips. And I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the king, the Lord Almighty.' And then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar, and with it, he touched my mouth and said, 'See this has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away. Your sin is atoned for.'"
Now, this is Isaiah's calling to be a prophet to the nations. But he's told right away that the people wouldn't listen to him. Verses 8-10, "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' And he said, 'Here am I, send me.' And he said, 'Go and tell this people, be ever-hearing but never understanding, be ever-seeing but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people callous, make their ears dull, close their eyes, otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.'" Isaiah would take in and absorb the vision of the holiness of Christ, Almighty God and of the people's sinfulness, he that lived in a land of people of unclean lips, and he would take that message also of Christ's atonement how sin can be atoned for and removed. And he'd take it out to his own people, but they wouldn't accept it, they wouldn't believe it, they would reject it.
The Promise of the Birth of a Son Called Immanuel
Next, in the very next chapter, we have the promise of the birth of the savior, of a son called Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14, "The Lord himself will give you a sign, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." This is the mystery of the virgin birth of Christ, how he had a human mother, but no human father that God, Almighty God was his father. Fully God, fully human. That foreshadowed here in this prophecy, not just the assertion, the virgin will be with child, but the very word Immanuel, which means God with us. That he came to Earth to live with us in a physical human body.
This is even more heightened by the next famous passage in Isaiah 9:1-7, there it says, "In the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-- The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this."
This is the prediction of a great light that's shining in a land, not just a land but a world of darkness. People walking in darkness who have no hope. Of a great victory won and of plunder of spoils from that victory, given to us. Why? Because to us a child is born. And so the birth of a child speaks to the humanist. But the titles, Wonderful Counselor, literally miracle counselor, Mighty God. A child that's born who is called Mighty God in a fiercely monotheistic setting, this is the incarnation of Christ, the God Man, the deity of Christ, established centuries before Jesus was even born. And it satisfies our yearning for a righteous government, a government that's perfect and upright that will last forever. And the increase of his government and peace there will be no end, it will go on for eternity.
The Picture of the Greatness of Christ’s Kingdom
Next, in Isaiah 11:1-9 we have a picture of Christ's kingdom and of that government, it says there, " A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD-- and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wickd. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea."
This predicts the future, perfect righteousness of Christ's reign. The removal forever of the curse from nature. Animals will no longer be red in tooth and claw, ripping and shredding each other, living for death. And there will be a perfect peace, a peaceful Earth on which he will reign.
Now, in that same chapter, we have the prediction of missions, which is a theme again and again in the Book of Isaiah. This message has to be taken to the ends of the Earth. And Isaiah predicts it again and again. Isaiah 11:10-12, "In that day, the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day, the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea. He will raise a banner for the nations and he will gather the exiles of Israel, and he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the Earth."
Now, next comes a regular theme in Isaiah, and that is the wrath and judgment of God on all the nations. There is continually woven together God's saving purpose for his people, and his wrath and judgment on his enemies. And we see this again and again. Isaiah 13:9-13 focuses on this wrath, his judgment. In those chapters, Isaiah focuses on Babylon first and Assyria next, but the implication is all the godless nations of the Earth will come under God's judgement. Isaiah 13:9-13 says, "Behold, the day of the LORD is coming--a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger-- to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless. I will make man scarcer than pure gold, more rare than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger."
It is because of this terrifying wrath to come that we must flee to Christ. There is no other refuge, there's no other place.
God Controls the Unfolding Plan of Human History
So, we see how God unfolds and controls his unfolding plan of human history. Again, Chris quoted this in his prayer, Isaiah 14:26-27. "This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the Lord Almighty has purposed and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out and who can turn it back?" This is the plan, this is the hand. The plan is God's sovereign plan crafted before the creation of the world for all nations, all people established before the foundation of the world. And then his hand is his sovereign power, the right hand of omnipotence, moving out over the nations, moving out over human history. He is the Alpha, he is the Omega, he will make it happen. This is the plan, this is the hand. Isaiah 14:26 and 27.
Now, in Isaiah 13-26 there are many oracles of nations, and these nations were these small nations that lived around Israel and Judah at that time, but it becomes representative of God's sovereign control over all the nations, over all the surface of the Earth throughout all of human history. And it culminates in this vision in Isaiah 24:1-6, it says, "Behold, the LORD is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants-- it will be the same for priest as for people, for master as for servant, for mistress as for maid, for seller as for buyer, for borrower as for lender, for debtor as for creditor. The earth will be completely laid waste and totally plundered. The LORD has spoken this word. The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth's inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.
So, God is going to destroy all his enemies and the enemies of his chosen people. But the last enemy to be destroyed is death. Death itself. And that is clearly predicted in Isaiah 25:6-9, one of my favorite oracles, it's also not well-known. Isaiah 25:6-9, it says there, "On this mountain, the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine, the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain, he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the Earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day, they will say, 'Surely this is our God, we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.'" Isn't that marvelous? There'll come a day in which death will be swallowed up forever, and that began to be revealed at Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, the destruction of death in the death of Christ.
Hope of the Resurrection of the Dead!
And by simple faith in Jesus, we have access to that banquet, that feast that's spread for all nations. By just simple faith in Christ, we trusted in him, it says, and he delivered us. And so, Jesus' resurrection is our great hope that someday death itself will die. So Isaiah 26:19, it says, this is speaking of the general resurrection, "Your dead will live, their bodies will rise, you who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the Earth will give birth to her dead."
Now, one theme we see again and again in Isaiah is how often the Jewish people resorted to religious machinery to try to save themselves. We see it right in the first chapter when they're bringing this trampling of God's courts and this bringing of animals and bulls and sheep and all that, and God was sick of it. But then in Isaiah 29:13, he talks about what God, what his problem was with it. And Jesus quotes this concerning the Jews of his own time, Isaiah 29:13, the Lord says, "These people come near me with their mouth, and they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is only made up of rules taught by men." This is a great danger for religious people around the world, even for us who have heard the gospel of Jesus, for us churchgoing Christians as well, to trust in the religious machinery rather than trusting in Christ, to trust in our own religious works and to have no genuine heart after Christ.
Instead, God tells us what true salvation is, Isaiah 30:15, This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: 'In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'" That's justification by faith alone apart from works, that's what that is. In repentance and rest and trust and quietness, that's salvation in Jesus. But the people didn't want it, they weren't interested in it, they rejected it.
Terrifying Predictions of the Coming Wrath
Now, of all the predictions of wrath that's going to come on the Earth, perhaps none is more graphic and terrifying than Isaiah 34:1-10. It's hard to read these words and not tremble inwardly if we believe they're really going to happen. Isaiah 34 says, "Come near, you nations, and listen; pay attention, you peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that is in it, the world, and all that comes out of it! The LORD is angry with all nations; his wrath is upon all their armies. He will totally destroy them, he will give them over to slaughter. Their slain will be thrown out, their dead bodies will send up a stench; the mountains will be soaked with their blood. All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree. My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed. The sword of the LORD is bathed in blood, it is covered with fat-- the blood of lambs and goats, fat from the kidneys of rams. For the LORD has a sacrifice in Bozrah and a great slaughter in Edom. And the wild oxen will fall with them, the bull calves and the great bulls. Their land will be drenched with blood, and the dust will be soaked with fat. For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion's cause. Edom's streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! It will not be quenched night and day; its smoke will rise forever."
Now, God is fully able to carry out this wrath, but he gives us dress rehearsals throughout history to see what it might look like. I think about what Europe look like in May of 1945, what Germany looked like, Berlin. I think about what Tokyo looked like in August of 1945. Just completely leveled, totally destroyed. We get images of this again and again throughout history. One of the clearest indications of God's power to do this is when the Assyrian surrounded Jerusalem and threatened to wipe out the Jews from the face of the Earth and extinguish the lineage of David that would trace down to Jesus. And God will that it would not take place, it would not happen, and he dispatched the angel of the Lord, who many commentators, including me, believe it was pre-incarnate Christ, and Jesus went out and killed 185,000 troops. Look at Isaiah 37:36, " Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning-- there were all the dead bodies!" When the people got up the next morning there were all the dead bodies, this was not difficult for Jesus to do, it was easy to do, it did not cause him any physical difficulty. He can put to death people without any effort at all, by speaking with the sword that comes from his mouth, we'll talk about it, God willing, next week.
The Turning Point: Isaiah 40
Now, Isaiah 40 marks kind of a turning in the Book of Isaiah, I believe Isaiah 40 is along with Isaiah 53, the two greatest chapters in the Book of Isaiah, maybe two of the greatest chapters in the entire Bible. And Isaiah 40 begins with a message of comfort to sinners, look at Isaiah 40:1-2, "'Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins." A word of comfort to broken-hearted sinners like us, that atonement, full atonement is possible in Jesus. And it speaks of the coming messenger of the Lord, fulfilled by John the Baptist. In verses 3 through 5, "A voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low, the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places, a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
And speaks of the transient nature of all humanity. Kind of like the central message of Scripture to us as human beings. Verse 6-8, "A voice says, 'Cry out.' And I said, 'What shall I cry?' 'All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.'"
The Proclamation of the Glory of the Lord
It speaks of the proclamation of the glory of the Lord. And what's so beautiful about Isaiah 40 is you get infinite majesty in that chapter, and infinite condescension and humility and meekness.
Look at verses 9-11, "You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout. Lift it up. Do not be afraid, say to the towns of Judah, 'Here is your God.' See the sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See his reward is with him and his recompense accompanies him."
I love verse 11, "He tends his flock like a shepherd, he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. He gently leads those that have young." Do you not feel as a Christian the tenderness and the gentleness of Jesus in caring for you? He is your good shepherd. He holds you close to his heart.
But this is the same one that it said in that same chapter, in verse 12-15, is infinite in majesty. "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding? Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust." This infinitely majestic God who marks the heavens with the span of his hand.
Verses 22-24, " He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff." This is the immense, infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, omniscient God, God the creator, God the ruler, God the judge who has come to Earth in the person of his Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Unveiling of Christ, the Savior of the World!
In the chapters that follow Isaiah 40, we have multiple visions of the coming Christ, they're called the suffering servant passages, and they begin in Isaiah 42:1-4, "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope." Don't you love that picture of Jesus? A bruised reed, fragile, he doesn't break it, he binds it back up and it gets healthy again. A smoldering wick, he doesn't snuff it out, he ignites it until it's a blazing bonfire of righteousness, that's Jesus. He's gentle with broken sinners like you and me, and he builds an empire not by crying out in the streets, but by gentleness, the proclamation of peace and forgiveness through faith in his name.
And then Isaiah 49:5-6, this servant of the Lord will not merely be the Savior of Israel, but of all the Earth. Look at verse 5 and 6, "And now the Lord says, he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring back Jacob to him and to gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength. He says, 'It is too small a thing for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the Earth.'" It's too small a thing for Jesus just to save the Jews, too small a thing. Now he is the Savior of the ends of the Earth. He's the Savior of Gentiles like you and me. He is the light of the Gentiles, he is the light of our lives and it was predicted long before he was born. But the price tag for that salvation would be high for Jesus, infinitely high.
And so in Isaiah 50:4-10, this is Jesus speaking, I think, through the prophet; predicting what it would be like for him to suffer and die for us. Think of this as Jesus speaking, "The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up. 10 Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God." Again and again justification by faith, trust in this Jesus who offered his back to those who beat him; trust in this Jesus who didn't hide his face from mocking and spitting and from his beard being plucked out, who willingly laid down his life.
Now the greatest single chapter in Isaiah generally called Isaiah 53 actually begins in Isaiah 52 and it portrays, I think it really is the theological center of the whole Bible, actually. Not just of Isaiah, the whole Bible. Begins Isaiah 52:13-15, "Behold my servant will act wisely. He'll be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him. His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness, so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him, for what they were not told they will see and what they have not heard they will understand." Jesus's form was disfigured beyond any human likeness on the cross. As he suffered and died on the cross it would be hard to imagine that there was depicted the wisdom and the love and the mercy of God, but there it was. And by his death, he, it says, "will sprinkle many nations." That Levitical sprinkling of the blood brought cleansing, and even more infinitely more the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus brings cleansing to the nations.
The Greatest Chapter on Substitutionary Atonement
Then Isaiah 53:1-6. Now, I think this is the greatest single chapter on the topic of substitutionary atonement. It's the idea of a substitute who is sinless, who is innocent, who died in the place of sinners to remove judgment from them. It's taught again and again in these verses, and I would say it's taught no more clearly anywhere else in the whole Bible than here in Isaiah 53:1-6. Listen to this. "Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."
This is the clear prediction of substitutionary atonement, of a Savior who was sinless in and of himself, but took on our iniquities and died under the wrath of God. We have no other hope than this. What other hope is there that sinners like us that can stand before an infinitely wise, holy God and survive Judgment Day. This is our only hope. And it's a sure and certain hope because God sent him for this very purpose. This is the clear prediction seven centuries before Jesus was born of his death on the cross and of the transfer of guilt from sinners to a substitute, and there's no hope apart from that. This is how we are forgiven and healed by his bloody death.
Isaiah 53:7-12, "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
This is the gospel, this is the centerpiece of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We sinners have no other hope, but this is a sure and certain hope, isn't it? This is a message and it begins in 53:1, "Lord, who has believed our message?" And so, just by believing this message is our forgiveness.
The Open Gospel Call and Missionary Success
So you have an invitation, an invitation, but it's right from Isaiah 55:1-3, "Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters. And you who have no money, come buy and eat, come buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend your money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of fair. Give ear and come to me, hear me that your soul may live." That is a gospel invitation right in Isaiah 55, pleading with us to stop living our lives for things that don't satisfy, that will leave us empty and will condemn us on judgment day. Come to Christ, feed on Christ, drink and eat of Christ.
But God also tells us this opportunity will not last forever. We have an opportunity now, today. Isaiah 55:6-7 says, "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord and he will have mercy on him and to our God and he will freely pardon him." This is the gospel that's been going out, beginning at Jerusalem through Judea, Samaria, to the ends of the Earth and God promises that his word will most certainly succeed. It's going to bring in a great multitude from every tribe, language, people, and nation. Isaiah 55:10-11 says, "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return without watering the Earth, making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth, it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."
So the missionaries that bring the message of Christ to the ends of the Earth will most certainly succeed, verses 12-13 of Isaiah 55, "You will go out in joy and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands, instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, instead of briers the myrtle will grow, this will be for the Lord's renown for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed."
This week I'm going to Richmond, I'm a trustee at the International Mission Board and I wanna just go and talk to the missionary candidates that we're going to appoint and give them verses 12-13 for hope. You're going to go out with joy, and be led forth with peace, and you will go in the name of the Lord whose word never comes back empty and you will lead people to Christ, Amen, hallelujah.
Now, this gospel comes as an invitation from the high and holy God, Isaiah 57:15. This is what the high and lofty one says, "He who lives forever, whose name is Holy. I live in a high and holy place but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the contrite, isn't that a great verse? It's like if you can memorize this one verse, I don't think this would be it, but it would be a great verse to memorize. It's a marvelous verse. The high and holy God of Isaiah 6, the one that the seraphim are covering their face, he's inviting you to his high and holy place to live with him forever if you'll just be humble and broken and ask for his salvation in Christ.
The Glory of Zion, the New Jerusalem, Will Be Made Up of People All Over the World
And this is going to happen, people from around the Earth are going to stream like we saw in Isaiah 2, they're going to stream into Zion, and Zion's going to become more and more and more and more glorious; bigger and bigger, more and more glorious. Isaiah 60:1-7, "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. "Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. All Kedar's flocks will be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth will serve you; they will be accepted as offerings on my altar, and I will adorn my glorious temple."
Some of those missionaries go out to the Arab-speaking world. Isaiah 60 tells them that they're going to be successful, there's going to be some elected that are going to come from those tribes and languages and peoples and nations and they will bring offerings forever in the heavenly Zion.
Jesus was anointed to bring this message. He is our Messiah, he is the Savior and he said so in Isaiah 61:1-3, this is how he began his preaching ministry, "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion." And he rolled up the scroll of Isaiah and he sat down and he opened his mouth in his hometown and said, "Today, in your hearing, this Scripture is fulfilled." This Jesus will never stop speaking until his bride, the heavenly Zion, is finished, beautiful, radiant. Isaiah 62:1-3, "For Zion's sake... " think of Jesus saying this, "For Zion's sake, I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake, I will not remain quiet till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory, and you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. You'll be a crown of spender in the Lord's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God." That's the bride of Christ, that's the new Jerusalem. That's the heavenly glory that Jesus is going to keep on speaking until it's done.
So the Book of Isaiah ends with a clear depiction of the new heavens and the new Earth and of hell, that's how the book ends. First, the new heavens and the new Earth, Isaiah 65:17-19, "Behold I will create new heavens and a new Earth. The former things will not be remembered nor will they come to mind, 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. 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." No more death, mourning, crying or pain, gone forever. The new heavens and the new Earth, that's where you in Christ are going, rejoice and be glad forever. Isaiah 65:25, you've heard this before, "The wolf and the lamb will feed together, the lion will eat straw like the ox, the dust will be the serpent's food, they will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain."
Now, this beautiful new Jerusalem is not going to get built by human skill, human architects, human construction companies, human efforts will not build this. Isaiah 66:1-2, this is what the Lord said, "Heaven is my throne, the Earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things and so they came into being?" We can't build the new Jerusalem, we can't build the new universe that's coming, only God can do that. Then he says in verse 2, "This is the one I esteem, he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at my word." Again, justification by faith alone in Christ. Only humble believers in Christ will enter it and so the gospel will spread to the ends of the Earth to claim them, to bring them in. Isaiah 66:19-20, "I will set a sign among them, I will send some of those who survive to the nations, to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians, famous as archers, to Tubal and Greece and to the distant islands, who have not heard of my fame or seen my glory and they will bring your brothers from all the nations to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the Lord."
The elect from every nation will spend eternity in God's presence, worshipping Him. 66:22-23 says, "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 from one new moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me," says the Lord. But the rebels will be destroyed forever. Verse 24: "And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me, their worm will not die nor will their fire be quenched and they will be loathsome to all mankind." Close with me in prayer.